Beyond digital mapping of RMG sector
Using different tools and maps for disaster risk reduction, hazard preparation and emergency response is a common practice for years. However, evidence of effectiveness of this approach is still hard to find in the industrial sector. Ericsson (a leading telecom company) developed and used a supply chain risk management tool in 2000. Ericsson was influenced to develop the tool after a fire accident, known as 'the Albuquerque accident', at a sub-supplier's plant in Albuquerque, New Mexico (USA). The accident made Ericsson realise the importance to better analyse, assess and manage risks along the supply chain and to take immediate actions when incidents are indicated. As technology and investments in remote sensing advance and the body of experience grows, satellite-based mapping is assuming a more formal and professional posture which has manifested in many community initiatives including, but not limited to, the International Charter on Space and Major Disasters(Space Charter), the Group on Earth Observation (GEO), UNOSAT, and United Nations Platform for Space-based Information for Disaster Management and Emergency Response (UN-SPIDER). Several Earth observation initiatives and programmes use satellite imagery for rapid assessment of disaster impact. One of these is the Copernicus Emergency Management Service (EMS). Among the recent events covered by EMS Rapid Mapping were the floods in France in the end of May/June 2016. The early warning coming from the European Flood Awareness System (EFAS) allowed fast provision of the flood damage assessment of the most affected areas to the civil protection authorities and other users.
It is not possible to make informed, concrete and rationale decision if authentic and up-to-date data are not available. Even after 50 years of independence, Bangladesh lacks important data and statistics regarding its industrial sector. There is no concrete database where one can easily find basic data, such as location, contact details, what they produce, employment status of the firms etc. Having a concrete and central database will have several advantages including making informed decisions: what to improvise, where to give concentration/importance, what needs to be done, and how the decisions can be implemented. Apart from these, the database can also aid quick response from law enforcement agencies, civil and fire defence, and related bodies at times of emergency.
Even though there are estimates about the number of firms and number of workers in the industrial sector of Bangladesh, there is no actual count of either the number of firms or workers. The lack of such credible data around the country's industrial sector seriously impedes all efforts for improvement as well as respond to emergency situations. Basic information about the universe of firms, including the actual total number of firms, locations, employment information, fire safety, electrical safety and building safety has not yet been organised into an exhaustive, credible resource. While the sector has unprecedented opportunities for transformation, accurate data is a prerequisite for informed decision-making and sustainable growth.
Though many government bodies and trade bodies do have a list of the firms, it is not exhaustive and complete. Nevertheless, the challenges currently being faced by the industrial sector in Bangladesh bring many opportunities - especially in transforming the sector as more accountable and transparent. Such a transformative process is dependent upon a realistic appreciation of the overall ecosystem as well as a solid commitment of the key stakeholders towards impact-driven interventions. Developing a concrete and comprehensive database with live update feature for the whole industrial sector, and then leveraging that data towards diverse equitable development efforts with the sector's key stakeholders can be a potential focus and opportunity.
Like all other industry, the RMG industry did not have any platform where all the sector stakeholders can gather data and information, and thus, can contribute to the improvement of the apparel sector of Bangladesh-- despite its longevity, scale and contributions to the country.
Decision making is as good as the data it uses. The RMG industry of Bangladesh has long been suffering from outdated, unverified and unreliable data which made evidence-based decision making difficult for policy makers, industry leaders, and relevant stakeholders. It was evident that without proper and authentic data, the contributions and expansions of the industry was completely opaque to many people. The lack of coordination between different stakeholders also posed a challenge because of divergence in different data sources.
Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED) of Brac University (BracU) is currently implementing a 4-year long mapping project titled "Mapped in Bangladesh" (MiB) funded by Laudes Foundation and co-funded by the Netherlands, with strategic partnership of Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), and strategic support from Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments(DIFE). The project is being coordinated by BRAC. The objective of MiB is to provide accurate, credible and updated export-oriented RMG factory information to all industry stakeholders in a manner that enables greater efficiency, productivity, accountability and transparency.
Addressing the data deficiency and lack of transparency in the RMG sector of Bangladesh, MiB is the first of its kind digital mapping for the RMG sector because it not only presents factory data on a digital map (similar to Google Map), but also collects the data from each export-oriented RMG factory in Bangladesh through census method. At present, the map hosts 3,374 export-oriented RMG factories from all over the country. The map currently showcases factory data including - factory name, factory address, contact details, factory type, factory establishment year, premise type, products being produced, number of workers with male and female ratio, brands and agents the factory work for, factory membership, factory inspection (Accord/Alliance), factory certification (WRAP, SEDEX, etc.), factories having Participation Committee and Safety Committee, countries factories export to, and name of nearby medical centres and nearby fire stations to the factories along with their GPS location. As the mapping project progresses, it not only detects the export-oriented RMG factories, but it also identifies the existing knowledge gap in the RMG sector. For example, it has so far located 672 factories that are not members of any of the apex trade bodies (BGMEA and BKMEA),we address them as "non-member factories".
The digital map is full of useful features, one can easily generate customised reports with available data and use this exclusive decision-making tool - this is a one-stop digital directory of the export-oriented RMG industry in Bangladesh. To know more, please visit: https://mappedinbangladesh.org.
Other industries like - leather, textile, spinning, agriculture, shipbuilding, steel, food processing, etc. can use CED-BracU's resources and expertise from the MiB project and develop such digital platform for their digital solution to take informed decision for their sector - especially at a time of crisis. Since CED-BracU has been working exclusively with the RMG sector, collecting data and mapping them, other sectors closely related to the RMG, like textile and backward and forward linkages, etc., should explore the opportunity to connect and utilise the learning of MiB, especially when different accidents and compliance issues have posed questions against the image and credibility of Bangladesh and become a global safety concern. It is high time for these sectors to chalk out possibilities to connect with the MiB's digital RMG platform and with the proven expertise, it would be relatively easy for CED-BracU to support them to develop digital platform for their individual purpose.
If the digital mapping for RMG sector can be envisioned as sector mapping, then domestic factories cannot be excluded. It is still unknown how many domestic factories exist in Bangladesh and how many workers are involved. However, as the small factories of the domestic sector are often positioned in the blurring area of factories and tailoring shops, a separate mapping is required for the domestic RMG sector. Furthermore, there is a number of RMG factories that export their products to other countries through informal channel. Unlike top fashion brands of traditional market like EU and North America, such factories cater to non-traditional markets through buyers and agents. For the global value chain analysis, both the formal and informal channels of exporting can be mapped. However, such mapping would require the interplay of cross-country partners and global stakeholders.
Such transparency initiatives like digital mapping of MiB can be extended being relevant to the RMG sector, but it is about going beyond the transparency of the sector. Supply chain mapping for supply chain transparency of the RMG sector can be the next step. MiB already has authentic and latest information on the export-oriented RMG factories collected directly from the factory management. Therefore, it can easily link which factories have backward linkages by mapping the printing factories, dyeing factories, and washing factories, and others. Doing so will allow us to reveal the major portion of the RMG supply chain.
From the RMG supply chain, digital mapping initiative can be escalated to the textile value chain by mapping the textile factories which represent yarn manufacturers, fabric manufacturers and textile processing mills. Targeting such factories can not only open the door for transparency of the whole textile sector, but also can envelope the traceability of the sector. However, to do that, strategic support from Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA) would be required.
If the digital maps continue unearthing different aspects of RMG and textile industry, then there are possibilities that such mapping tools can transform themselves from transparency tools to policy and advocacy tools. Again, for such transformation, industry-wide actions are needed from all authoritative and relevant entities.