The World Trade Organization (WTO) forum on inclusive trade was held from the 27-29th September 2016 at the Geneva WTO headquarters. The theme this year was ‘inclusive trade’, which focused on different issues that need to be tackled as business models and world growth is shifting. A soapbox debate was held on the 27th of September, on which Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association, BKMEA, played a vital role while contesting issues pertinent to the knitwear industry. Mr Mansoon Ahmed, 2nd Vice President, BKMEA was present to share our views on the topic “Responsible business in global supply chains: whose responsibility is it? Lessons learned from the garment sector”
This debate was moderated by Mr Filippo Veglio, Director Global and Social Impact of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. Speakers included Mr Miran Ali, Director of the Bangladeshi Garment Manufacturing Employers’ Association, Ms Erica van Doorn, Director of the Fair Wear Foundation, Mr Christiaan Rebergen, Vice-Minister for Trade and Development of the Netherlands, Ms Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director of the International Trade Centre and a representative of the ILO/IFC Better Work Programme.
The panelists provided useful insight on the industry, and according to a report generated by WTO, Ms Erica van Doorn expressed her opinion on redesigning the industry jointly, since “every actor in the garment supply chain needs to play its role.” Mr Christiaan Rebergen added to this by saying how multi-stakeholder partnerships would foster sustainability, and that “the voluntary approach fosters commitment. Mr Miran Ali emphasized on the need for a unified code of conduct for compliance related issues as he said, “we need one set of global standards we can comply to, to avoid audit fatigue and cutting corners”.
Mr Mansoon Ahmed echoed along the similar lines, and added his remarks to issues related to remediation costs with regards to compliance issues and how they are completely borne by the local entrepreneurs themselves, with little help from the upper supply chain members. He also urged for support from the upper chain members with regards to investment and technological support. He concluded his speech with urging all stakeholders of the whole value chain to take responsibility as he said, “the sustainability of the value chain does not only depend on economic upgrading, but also on social and environmental upgrading, and it can only be made practical with taking responsibility coherently from all stakeholders of the whole value chain."
“Representative of the Bangladeshi Knitwear Manufacturing and Exporters Association said that joint responsibility should focus on more than one sustainability issue. Not only social, but also environmental issues should be addressed.”
According to the aforementioned report generated by WTO, our words made a lasting impression as BKMEA was the only representative who brought up issues related to the environment, in addition to all the other significant issues.
The forum ended with reflections by Ms Arancha Gonzalez, as she said, “We can do business and do good at the same time (with an emphasis on can); we have to redefine value and also look at the value for society at large; and we have to encourage non-financial reporting: what happens in supply chains should be more than just numbers.”
The conclusion of this forum ended on a call for a partnership that fosters good research values and unbiased data collection from all stakeholders that will engage in dialogues for a better industry.