MD of renowned audit & certification body highlights the various dimensions of social sustainability, and how to achieve them
‘Sustainability’ is increasingly becoming the catchphrase for business success, and Bangladesh apparel industry is not an exception to it… Of the various approaches to sustainability – environmental, economic and social – Bangladesh RMG sector fares decently in the environmental sustainability index. The growing number of green factories is a testimony to the same.
But what about the most widely accepted model for addressing sustainability – ‘social sustainability’?
“When we started Global Sustainable Certification Services Limited in 2010, child labour, forced labour, long working hours, unpaid overtime, etc, were very common… Over the years, RMG sector has shown remarkable improvements in social sustainability. Social structure within the factories have undergone major changes; overtime payments have become regular and accurate, abuse of the workers have stopped-… Almost 80 per cent factories have been practising very good social culture and it’s a remarkable achievement for the country I should say,” maintains Md. Abdul Mottaleb, Managing Director of Global Sustainable Certification Services Limited (GSCS).
GSCS is a well-known entity that offers comprehensive services in Social/ETI/Technical Auditing, Certification, Inspection and Training business to all sectors focusing on RMG industry. GSCS’s mission is to provide a worker-friendly environment while also ensuring ethical, legal rights, benefits and workplace safety for the workers.
Its services include Organic Certification, Sustainability Services (LEED Green Building certification, Environmental & Social Impact Assessment – ESIA, Corporate Sustainability Reporting, Sustainable Production, Sustainable R&D Consultancy, Carbon Footprint Training, etc), Social Auditing and Certification (SA 8000: 2014 Certification, SMETA – Sedex Members Ethical Trade Audit, Gap Analysis Audit on different codes, GSCS Generic Code of Ethic Audit programme, etc), ISO Management System Certification and allied services related to C-TPAT Audit, Factory Assessment, Product Inspection and so on. GSCS, in association with CERES GmbH, also offers certification for organic manufacturing practices like GOTS, OCS, etc.
Mottaleb attributes the improvement in social sustainability in the RMG industry to the increased pressure from the international community including the brands and retailers, Government’s push to improve the industry’s image and constant monitoring and reporting by the local and international media.
With workers’ wage forming a significant aspect of social sustainability, Mottaleb feels it’s time the industry turns its focus on paying the workers better while ensuring further development on the social sustainability index. “Bangladesh is way behind when it comes to paying living wage. I would say 99 per cent of the factories do not pay living wage to the workers,” maintains the MD of GSCS. The one per cent of factories which pay living wage are mostly sweater manufacturers.
“A sweater factory worker earns more than Taka 10,000 per month (average) as compared to those who earn Taka 6,000 per month (average) in regular RMG units,” underlines Mottaleb, according to whom living wage needs to be equated to the living standard of a family and calculated based on the parameters of basic necessity, medical expenses, education, housing and electric charges paid, to ensure decent living condition, alongside certain amount of discretionary income as savings.
“The calculation however differs from locality to locality as cost of living and other expenses are varied. Every year while auditing, we select Gazipur as the median for the same…,” Mottaleb explains, adding that a great deal towards achieving social sustainability, including better wages, workers’ welfare and well-being, have a direct connection with the economic standing of the concerned factory. Going forward, Mottaleb underlines the importance of manufacturing organic products. Thanks to the increasing global demand for organic products, the MD of GSCS points out that choosing eco-friendly and organic offerings over the regular ones could prove to be the game changer for apparel manufacturers, who are increasingly finding it difficult to bargain better price points in regular product categories.
“The number of factories going for organic certification is increasing significantly. In 2017 alone, we have witnessed a 40 per cent increase in factories applying for and attaining organic certificates…,” maintains Mottaleb, underlining that the country’s dependence on overseas supply chains like India, Pakistan, China and Turkey for organic raw materials is a hindrance nevertheless.
“The apparel industry has already resigned to the fact that our backward and forward linkages are not very strong even when it comes to raw materials for regular products. As such, I don’t think the manufacturers would be discouraged from importing raw materials considering the opportunities (both in terms of profit and demand) that organic products offer,” winds up Mottaleb on a positive note.