“For 2022, it is important to stay optimistic and perceive challenges as opportunities” – Werner Lange, Coordinator Textile Cluster, GIZ Bangladesh

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As a service provider with worldwide operations in the fields of international cooperation for sustainable development and international education work, GIZ works with its partners to develop effective solutions that offer people better prospects and sustainably improve their living conditions. GIZ is a public-benefit federal enterprise and supports the German Government and a host of public and private sector clients in a wide variety of areas.

In Bangladesh, GIZ cooperates with companies, trade unions and state actors in order to improve social and environmental conditions in the RMG and leather sector.

Recently, Mr. Pranta Biswas, Denim Focus Coordinator, and Mr. Farzana Alam Piyaa, Editorial Assistant, Denim Focus, had a conversation with Mr. Werner Lange, Coordinator, GIZ Textile Cluster, regarding the development of the textile sector in Bangladesh. The conversation is drafted below for our readers.

Fig: Mr. Werner Lange, Coordinator, GIZ Textile Cluster

Denim Focus: What is your observation during the pandemic period of the textile and apparel industry of Bangladesh? 

Mr. Werner Lange: The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns all over the world came as a shock to retail businesses. Heavy declines in sales lead to the termination of orders in countries like Bangladesh. Liabilities for exporters and their workforces were not taken into account. Measures initiated by the Government of Bangladesh, combined with financial and technical aid offered by international development organizations, helped the sector to revive. On a global scale, Bangladesh was able to re-claim its position as the world’s leading exporters of textile and garment products. The country and its people thus proved their strength and persistence.

Denim Focus: What are the recent projects going on for the textile and apparel industry?

Mr. Werner Lange: On behalf of the German Government, GIZ aims to foster decent work, good governance and responsible textile production in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh, industry associations and NGOs.

In order to promote sustainable economic development, we are supporting the introduction of international social and environmental standards. Due diligence in factories is a major concern that we are addressing through strengthening government institutions’ capacities for monitoring compliance. Further, we are fostering social dialogue. We want to create protected rooms for workers where we can encourage them to claim their rights but in an informed but appropriate manner. Not through violence, but through negotiating with the employers.

One of the most challenging tasks is introducing an employment injury insurance. When the Rana Plaza disaster happened, no proper system was in place. In order to achieve minimum adequate financial compensation for workers in case of a workplace accident, buyers and factories need to join hands. For a long time, the stakeholders could not find an agreement. On one hand, buyers stated that social insurance is the obligation of each employer, but not the brands. On the other hand, manufacturers have been claiming to have nothing left in hand including any cost for social protection due to buyer’s constant pressure on prices.

I know that finding a solution is tough, but it is a matter of ethics. – now there is light at the end of the tunnel. In order to create a system for social protection, we are closely cooperating with the ILO and the Ministry of Labour and Employment. After an initiating workshop towards the end of 2021, we are confident that considerable progress will be made in early 2022. A group of the willing ones on the side of the brands have agreed to contribute financially to the set up of a pilot scheme, the so-called Bridging Solution, which will pave the wave towards a comprehensive and sustainable Employment Injury Insurance for Bangladesh​.

Parallelly, we strongly believe in the importance of education and technical skills. In the project for higher education and leadership development, we are targeting at students and mid-level managers to raise their awareness and capability to apply sustainable management practices once taking over responsibility.

Better compliance with social and environmental standards can be achieved through the RSC which we will support starting this year. Finally, when it comes to compliance, neither the buyer nor the manufacturers will have to pay the bill. The internalization of external costs for the necessary compliance with sustainable standards is a no zero sum game – finally the consumers will be paying the price. Here buyers and manufacturers are sitting in the same boat. Sustainability is not free of charge.

Denim Focus: What’s your expectation for 2022?

Mr. Werner Lange: The COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing. Still, the impact in 2021 was less severe than in the previous year. For 2022, it is important to stay optimistic and continue to perceive challenges as opportunities.

Our cooperation within the GIZ textile cluster will be manifold. Apart from further investing in the sustainability of the sector through promoting worker’s health and safety, the interventions will focus on compliance with international standards and build capacities in the education and skills sector. The cluster will continue its endeavors towards creating a safe workplace for all, focusing in particular on women.

Denim Focus: Any message to the industry?

Mr. Werner Lange: My message for the industry would be: Don’t perceive one another as competitors or enemies. The manufactures are competitors with each other. The retailers are competitors with each other. Competition inspires performance. But global challenges cannot be solved by competition. The road to success is paved with various components: discussion, cooperation, voluntary commitment and action and tolerance.

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