'Producing socially conscious and eco-friendly clothing'

Textile industry in Bangladesh: dialogue between management and workers promotes productivity

How is it possible to improve productivity and efficiency in the textile factories of Bangladesh, while also ensuring compliance with social standards? Investment in training and better working conditions for the factories’ workforces is the answer, say the managers of a project being implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) on behalf of the C&A Foundation. A central element of the approach is the creation of change management teams, each consisting of three workers, an HR manager and a production manager.

GIZ (formerly GTZ, the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit) has been working in Bangladesh since 1972. Here, as in other textile producing countries like China and India, it is commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to provide advice to the government, associations and enterprises. Increasingly, it is also taking on commissions from international corporations that are keen to meet the responsibilities associated with their use of global supply chains. The German experts take an integrated approach to the various aspects involved, such as applying social standards, increasing productivity and protecting the environment. The experience they gain in their work with the enterprises feeds directly into the advisory services they provide at government level.

The GIZ coordinator for Bangladesh and Pakistan, Barbara Mannert, and the manager of the Sustainable Supplier Programme (SSP), David Ambadar, talked to CSR NEWS about a programme for the textiles supply chain which they are implementing jointly with the C&A Foundation.

It all began with a pilot project involving four of C&A’s strategic suppliers in Bangladesh, including S.F. Fashion Wears in Dhaka. Now completed, this programme aimed to contribute to better working conditions and higher productivity, while developing a quality management system and strengthening the position of the workers. CSR NEWS witnessed the success of the programme during a visit to S.F. Fashion Wears. Today, a team of quality managers is in place, which besides monitoring quality is also responsible for the ongoing optimisation of the production processes. The workforce is also involved in shaping those processes, and employees are motivated to remain with the company with annual wage increases (you can find a detailed account of this project among the links to the right of this page).

As many as ten other companies in Bangladesh and India are now set to benefit from the results of the pilot project, and up to 170 more enterprises should also profit subsequently from the experiences of the first companies in a roll-out. At the heart of the programme, which started in June 2012 and will run until November 2013, are change management teams consisting of three workers, one personnel officer and one production manager. These interdisciplinary teams promote dialogue between the management and the workforce. Their objectives include improvements to efficiency and productivity, as well as better working conditions and occupational safety. They also aim to reduce the amount of overtime being worked, and to help reduce staff turnover. As a first step, the change management teams identify problems – for example, excessive amounts of overtime. The second step is to establish a benchmark – such as a 10% reduction in overtime. Thirdly, the team drafts an appropriate action plan for presentation to senior management.

For the project, C&A ran a campaign among its suppliers, and convinced a number of them that investment in training for their employees (capacity development) is equally as important to commercial success as the optimisation of processes and production. The GIZ team, which includes German and Bangladeshi staff members, supports the participating enterprises with training and follow-up activities. The relevant management personnel from different factories attend workshops where they learn together and benefit from each other’s experiences and solutions. ‘They remain competitors, but want to learn from one another at the same time,’ says David Ambadar. With the C&A Foundation as the commissioning party for the project, a detailed monitoring system was agreed upon to examine the interactions between productivity and compliance more closely, and to identify success factors. As Barbara Mannert says, ‘If companies raise their productivity, they are able to invest in social improvements.’

Staff training is particularly significant for textile enterprises in Bangladesh, where there are hardly any vocational or tertiary educational institutions producing graduates specifically qualified to work in this industry. Employees acquire most of their know-how through on-the-job training. This means that companies are keen to retain their qualified personnel. ‘High staff turnover has a negative impact on efficiency,’ says Ambadar. As part of the project, the companies develop sustainable human resources strategies. These include training activities and career options for employees, as well as wage increments based on skills development, company loyalty and performance bonuses.

The support of senior management is essential to ensure the success of such programmes. It is therefore a precondition for a company’s participation that the CEO or owner signs a letter of commitment that sets out the advantages of the programme to the company as well as the responsibilities and obligations on the part of the management.

Author: Achim Halfmann, Journalist.
This article was first published on CSR-News.net on 8 March 2013.