As coronavirus lockdowns ease and manufacturing facilities resume operations, a question of paramount importance begs to be asked: How can we mitigate the risks of a resurgence in the virus and ensure the health and safety of factory workers?
This is the billion dollar question for Bangladesh, the second largest apparel manufacturing country in the world whose apparel sector alone contributes to 80% of the country’s export revenue.
What has the impact of Covid-19 been on the Bangladesh Apparel Industry?
As the whole world reels from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a fundamental shift in the way consumers spend. “Global lockdowns and unprecedented job losses have caused demand for just about anything that isn’t food to evaporate, including clothing”, writes CNN. This has caused a downward spiral in the apparel industry at every level. Retail stores have closed to adhere to government lockdown and social distancing measures. Plummeting sales have forced several large brands and retailers to file for bankruptcy.
This unprecedented drop in sales has caused more than $3.5 billion worth of clothing orders to be cancelled. These cancellations have had dire consequences for the 6 million workers employed in the Bangladeshi apparel industry, and the subsequent 15 million more jobs reliant, either directly or indirectly, on the industry.
For countries all over the world, the Covid-19 pandemic has become both a humanitarian and economic catastrophe. This is even more true for Bangladesh whose lifeblood is its apparel industry.
Lives vs Livelihood
As markets reopen and orders slowly ramp up, manufacturers are starting to feel the pressure to meet the increasing demand and to fulfill outstanding export orders. “If we don’t start up again, retailers will move to China or Vietnam or Cambodia. It’s a fickle business,” said one factory owner.
Towards the end of April, despite the nationwide lockdown, manufacturing facilities have resumed their operations. “The fear of coronavirus is there. But I am now more worried about losing my job, wages and benefits,” a factory worker told AFP news agency.
The decision to reopen factories and go back to work amidst the coronavirus pandemic has seemingly become a choice between lives versus livelihoods. But perhaps, it doesn’t have to be.
The Top Priority: Worker’s Health & Safety
In order to fight Covid-19, the government, industry organizations, brands, retailers, suppliers and factory owners must work together to ensure that proper measures and protocols are in place to protect the lives of the millions of workers who fuel the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) recognizes this duty and has partnered with Inspectorio in their implementation of COVID-19 Workplace Health and Safety Guidelines to assess the manufacturing facilities of their more than 4,000 factory members. BGMEA is a nationwide trade association in Bangladesh representing the readymade garment (RMG) industry. This partnership exemplifies BGMEA’s dedication to protect and promote the interest of the industry and its workers.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) is one of the largest trade associations in Bangladesh representing the readymade garment industry, particularly the woven garments, knitwear and sweater sub-sectors with equal importance. Starting its journey in 1983, today BGMEA takes care of an industry that is at the backbone of Bangladesh’s economy. Since its inception, BGMEA has been dedicated to the promotion of the apparel industry through policy advocacy to the government, services to members, ensuring workers’ rights and social compliance at factories.
Click here to learn more about BGMEA.
Inspectorio is a SaaS (software-as-a-service) company working with the supply chain industry. We aim to provide revolutionary technology to transform quality inspections and facility assessments, and by doing so, empower brands, retailers, and their supplier matrix to optimize for unparalleled quality, sustainability and health & safety operations. We are currently offering use of our Rise platform free of charge to enable Brands, Retailers and Suppliers to remotely implement, and monitor compliance with, vital COVID-19 related health and safety guidelines – and in doing so ensure safe working conditions for their partner facilities.
Click here to learn more about Inspectorio Rise.
BGMEA’s Covid-19 Guidelines
BGMEA’s Covid-19 Guidelines provide practical guidance on managing factory operations by outlining requirements that will help facilities to demonstrate their preparedness to restart production and establish adequate procedures that put the health, well-being and safety of workers as a top priority. It covers:
- Policy and Guidelines – to ensure factories have a COVID-19 policy in place
- Employee/Staff Training – to ensure training and awareness programs are in place to address prevention of infection both in and outside of the workplace
- Taskforces – to help factories develop a dedicated taskforce responsible for implementing, monitoring and auditing guidelines
- Communication strategy – to guide factories in establishing clear communication channels between employers and workers
- Entrance Protocols – to helps factories establish methods for safely handling entry of workers and visitors to the workplace
- Sanitization and Disinfection – to help factories implement the necessary practices in regards to cleaning and disinfection
- Physical Distancing – to guide factories to implement effective physical distancing measures within the workplace
- Medical Preparedness – to ensure factories have an infrastructure in place to assess, address and quarantine suspected COVID-19 cases
BGMEA – Inspectorio Partnership
BGMEA is leveraging our Rise platform’s capabilities to digitize the assessment procedure, at zero cost for themselves or their factory members, allowing them to implement it quickly, and at a large scale. All BGMEA factory members are provided with free access to Rise where they are expected to complete a health and safety ‘self-assessment questionnaire’ on a bi-weekly basis. A percentage score from 0-100% will be provided after completion of the assessment to measure the factory’s level of adherence to BGMEA’s COVID-19 Guidelines.
Based on the results, factories are able to identify areas in need of improvement and are expected to provide a clear action plan to address them – or apply solutions based on industry best practices and recommendations. This process provides increased accountability and a commitment to continuous improvement.
Through Inspectorio Rise, BGMEA is able to simplify the self-audit process of more than 4000 factories. The platform’s powerful dashboard and analytics provide visibility of each of the factory’s assessment results making it easier to monitor factories’ adherence with the set health and safety guidelines. Factories are empowered to take ownership of improvement opportunities in order to ensure a safe workplace. This, in turn, will help build and maintain the confidence of the brands and retailers they work with globally by demonstrating that the welfare of their workers is of utmost importance.
Operating in the new normal
As the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned, the coronavirus may never be completely eradicated. We need to learn how to live and operate in the post-Covid-19 world, in our ‘new normal’.
This partnership underscores the increasingly important role that digitalization and technology will play in every aspect of the supply chain. Our hope is that Inspectorio Rise will arm the industry with the right tools to continue the fight against Covid-19, and keep our factory workers safe.
We, at Inspectorio, are both humbled and privileged to be able to collaborate with BGMEA to play a part in ensuring safe workplaces for factory workers in Bangladesh.