Stitching together a sustainable garment industry


Minister Lilianne Ploumen of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Allert van den Ham, SNV CEO, launched the ‘Working with Women: Promoting SRHR for Business Success in Bangladesh’s Garments Industry' project in Dhaka. The project will build supply and demand mechanisms that support female workers’ access to convenient, gender-friendly, affordable and quality sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) services within or near factories.

To achieve this, SNV will work with 10 factories and selected SRHR service providers to pilot and test activities that deliver win-win solutions for businesses and workers. The pilot is designed to identify and innovate new approaches, as well as improve or scale existing approaches. Beginning in earnest in the 1980/90s, a new garment production strategy began to sweep the fashion industry. Now known as the Ready Made Garment (RMG) industry or ‘fast fashion’, this trend involves moving fashion trends from the catwalk to the consumer rapidly and at a low cost in order to prompt increased sales and consumption.

Nowadays the RMG industry is the mainstay of the Bangladesh economy. RMG currently represents 30% of Bangladesh’s industrial GPD, of which 85% of the labour is provided by women. In fact Bangladesh’s RMG industry is the largest source of employment for disadvantaged and rural women aged 14-35. While the growth of this sector has been successful in many fronts, there have been knock-on, negative effects in the working conditions of RMG factories. Bangladesh is the world’s third largest garment producer, but what does that mean for the largely female workforce supplying the demand for fast fashion?

Health issues including malnutrition, pregnancy complications, inconsistent use of family planning materials, reproductive infections and diseases impact the productivity of individual female workers and the RMG industry as a whole. In particular, this will be achieved and sustained through leveraging SNV’s expertise with Inclusive Business models when approaching the aforementioned SRHR issues.  This approach shifts away from traditional awareness and capacity building programmes targeted only at workers and will actively engage the private sector.

“It is important that SNV will work together with the factory owners to contribute to better sexual and reproductive health for their employees. SNV has extensive experience with this way of working and the women of Bangladesh can profit from this.” - Minister Lilianne Ploumen, Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

“While much has been done through women’s organization to fight for better health rights, without the commitment of the factory owners this will remain insufficient. This project is one of the few projects in the textile industry where business leaders are truly involved. This kind of equal partnership is quite unique and will hopefully have a significant, pro-poor impact.” - Allert van den Ham, SNV CEO

Experience has taught us that without including the support and buy-in of business leaders and factory owners, the sustainability of any changes or intervention is likely to be undermined. By bringing all stakeholders and key players to the table we can find smart, sustainable development solutions for the challenges faced by RMG workers and factory owners in Bangladesh.

Project outcomes:

  • Improve the quality, range, and accessibility of SRHR in selected factories.

  • Target RMG factories to include SRHR in cores business models and practices.

  • Increase national and international RMG knowledge on SRHR issues.