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Integration of productivity and occupational health and safety in the  garment industry of Bangladesh 

Lead Institution: Aalborg University (AAU), Denmark, Centre for Industrial Production, Department of Business and Management (AAU)
Partner Institution(s): Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology (AUST), Bangladesh
Start Date: January 1, 2015
End Date: December 31, 2018
Project Type: North driven projects
Project Code: 14-07AAU
Keywords: capacity building, employment opportunities, environmental protection, government policy, health, human rights
Total grant: DKK 9,656,146
Contact : Peter Hasle
Countries: Bangladesh
The project creates new and exploratory knowledge about sustainable co-development between occupational health and safety (OHS) and productivity in the readymade garment (RMG) industry in Bangladesh. The objective will be reached by studying the characteristics of the relationships between the RMG buyers and suppliers and how external pressure from buyers towards OHS and productivity improvements can be translated into sustainable advancements for the suppliers. The project is theoretically framed in an extended version of a capability maturity-model integrated with a safety maturity model.
Drawing on this model, the conditions affecting OHS and productivity will be explored by means of a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods in a baseline study of 50 firms. The result of this research will be combined with theoretical elements from OHS, supply chain management, operations management and organization theory and developed into specific recommendable methods for concerted OHS and productivity improvements.
The resulting methods will be implemented and tested in 12 suppliers. Sustainability will be tested in follow up studies. The knowledge thus gained will subsequently be disseminated to the scientific community, the stakeholders in the garment industry in Bangladesh, and Danish and European buyers. This project thereby aims at directly and indirectly (i.e. through disseminations) improving OHS practices and productivity among Bangladeshi RMG suppliers.
We visited 50 companies in 2015 & 2016, which also served for the testing and refinement of the baseline methodology.


Jan Vang
Center for Industriel Produktion, Aalborg University
København SV, DK

Malek Maalouf
Center for Industriel Produktion, Aalborg University
København SV, DK


The garment sector Bangladesh is one of the backbones of the amazing development that Bangladesh has undergone the last decades. Bangladesh is now one of the biggest offshore destinations for foreign brands in the world and holds high ambitious for the future of the industry. It is widely acknowledged among the most important studies that the ambitions will only be reached by simultaneously enhancing the productivity and social performance of the industry. Important change agents in this process are the brands or the global buyers. We recommend that much attention is paid to how to transform the relationship between global brands and buyers, and their Bangladeshi suppliers. Currently many if not most Bangladeshi suppliers are delivering rather standardized goods and often the global buyers are shopping around between different suppliers. And even when they have a long term relationship it is still highly transactional in nature.
Studies of the relationship between buyers and their suppliers also reveal that apart from the biggest brands virtually none of the buyers engage in direct supplier development programs in a systematic and comprehensive manner. They rely on audits and evaluations which have been shown to be inefficient methods for improving productivity and social performance. They also frequently rely on exposing the suppliers to more competition; that is using the stick to improve both operational and social performance. Indeed many buyers simply do not possess the competencies to develop and implement convincing supplier development programs any longer. They have offshore-outsourced production processes and gradually lost their in-house capabilities.
This poses a big challenge for the Bangladeshi suppliers and recent studies have demonstrated that it requires a significant effort by both global buyers and suppliers to enhance operational and social performance. The studies however do also send a positive message being that close collaboration between the global buyers and suppliers around implementing lean in the supplier organizations can increase suppliers’ capabilities and improve labor compliance with up to 15%. This means that Bangladeshi suppliers now need to behave proactively and start adopting lean practices much more than is done currently and as part of this process putting pressure on the global buyers to engage in collaboration around lean projects. It will not be easy as it will require that both parts make major investments, but it will pay off financially and should therefore be done.
This project, financed by DANIDA, and undertaken in collaboration between AUST and Aalborg University offer Bangladeshi companies a unique opportunity to get the knowledge and information needed to take the first steps towards becoming lean organizations. We truly encourage private companies to join our seminars and become part of the progressive and enlightened Bangladeshi companies that are being a part of shaping the sustainable and prosperous future of Bangladeshi garment companies.