We have been following the Denim Expert, made in Bangladesh denim, for a while now. Their Transparency policy is exemplary and one that many industries out there – anywhere in the world – should be pursuing.

According to Mostafiz Uddin*, CEO of the Denim Expert Ltd., the Bangladeshi apparel industry’s remarkable progress in transparency is impressing foreign buyers:

H&M just recently opened their first stores called Arket, introducing “transparent tagging,” where they mention the supplying factory names as well as some other key details of the manufacturing process. And Dutch company, Honest By, founded in 2012, is another store adhering to the principle of Transparency by telling their customers to question how their goods are manufactured for sustainability.

This move by some of the largest fashion brands in the world is a – hopefully – real reflection of a larger trend in the global fashion towards transparency.

Transparency means letting consumers know who manufactures their apparel, starting from who farmed the cotton right down to who dyed the fabric and ending with how the complete garment was manufactured.

The demand for transparency in the textile and garment supply chains is growing as consumers are becoming more socially and environmentally conscious every day.

In fact, after sustainability, transparency is probably the most talked about topic in the fashion world at present and will be so in the years to come.

A wake-up call

According to Mostafiz Uddin:

“We all know the history of Bangladesh’s ready-made garments (RMG) industry. After a journey of about 35 years, we have become the second largest apparel exporting country in the world, after China.

Our journey so far has not been easy. In the early days, industrialization happened in a largely unplanned manner. As we kept growing, we started adopting positive changes, particularly in the areas of compliance and well-being of workers.

In fact, Bangladesh was among the first RMG-exporting countries to eliminate child labor in 1995 through the “Earn & Learn” program, with support from the United States, the International Labor Organisation (ILO), and UNICEF.

In theory, the Constitution of Bangladesh also protects workers from all forms of exploitation. Bangladesh ratified 34 conventions of ILO including seven fundamental conventions in 1972, just after the year of our independence, unlike many developed and developing countries which have not ratified them yet.

In 2013, the Rana Plaza tragedy happened, in which over 1,100 workers lost their lives in a building collapse. The most unfortunate episode in our RMG industry’s history. But the silver lining is that it was a wake-up call that forced us to overhaul our RMG industry and enforce workers’ rights and safety.

It set off a massive transformation of the industry over the last four and a half years, resulting in significant improvements in work-place safety and factory compliance.

Rising to the occasion

Buyer-led safety initiatives such as Accord and Alliance together with our own national initiative have inspected around 3,900 factories. More than 80% of the remediation work has already been completed.

This has been done in a most transparent way through a multi-stakeholder approach. Even the inspection reports with status updates are regularly published and accessible to the public through the website of the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) and the websites of Accord and Alliance.

There are more than 170 countries in the world producing apparel, and Bangladesh has only a 6% share in the world market. But such a level of transparency in terms of workplace safety does not exist anywhere in the world except in Bangladesh.

The engagement of our development partners through the “Sustainability Compact” and the active participation of local and global stakeholders like the ILO in the process of legal and administrative reforms is a unique example of transparency that Bangladesh has set.

Dialogue is an important way to establish harmonious industrial relations based on trust. The government recently formed the Tripartite Consultative Council (TCC) for the RMG sector to address labor- and workplace-related issues, and to resolve disputes in the RMG sector through dialogue.

The TCC consists of representatives from the government, employers, and workers. The ILO is an observer and facilitator of the TCC. Such open dialogue and consultation is also a reflection of transparency.

It is also heartening to learn that the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers & Exporters Association (BGMEA) is collaborating with the C&A Foundation and BRAC University to establish a Digital RMG Factory Map where we can see the entire industry and its status.

This is an excellent initiative and will help further to ensure the transparency of our RMG industry.

Branding transparency

In the 7th edition of Bangladesh Denim Expo , held in November last year, we tried to showcase the achievements of our apparel industry through various means such as displaying denim outfits produced in Bangladesh under transparent working conditions, making a “transparency facts” wall at the venue, and arranging a virtual reality (VR) factory tour for visitors.

More than five thousand visitors attended the expo from around the world, and they were highly impressed to see the progress that the Bangladeshi apparel industry has made in terms of transparency.

It would be not be an exaggeration to say that the Bangladeshi apparel industry has made far better and tangible progress in the area of transparency compared to other apparel producing countries. We are proud to advertise this to Western buyers and consumers and use it as a branding strategy.

However, despite all the efforts that manufacturers are making for positive transformation, costs are eventually going to be affected:  retailers and clothing brands need to practice transparent pricing and purchasing to enable transparency across the whole supply chain. Because in the global supply chain, transparency cannot be a stand-alone responsibility for the manufacturers and suppliers only.

* Mostafiz Uddin is the managing director of Denim Expert Ltd. He is also the founder and CEO of Bangladesh Apparel Exchange (BAE) and Bangladesh Denim Expo.