Two years after an Apparel Summit in Dhaka, Bangladesh, global heads of retail, representatives of non-governmental organizations, factory owners and academics will meet there on Feb. 25 to talk sustainability and take a hard look at the way forward.Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will inaugurate the one-day seminar with 33 panelists at the Pan Pacific Sonargaon hotel here. The event is being organized by the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association and the Bangladesh Apparel Exchange.“Our target with the Dhaka Apparel Summit 2017 is to get a good perspective on where we were, we are now, and we will go,” said Siddiqur Rahman, president of BGMEA. “We have changed a lot over the last two-and-a-half years and expect that this growth will continue to improve the industry.”The event is expected to help outline a path toward achieving the goals of the previous Apparel Summit in 2015, which set a target of $50 billion in apparel exports by 2021. The $28.5 billion apparel industry in Bangladesh is the second-largest garment exporter in the world after China, with more than 3,500 factories that have largely been inspected for safety and structural concerns.Speakers at the event are expected to include Marcia Stephens Bloom Bernicat, U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh; Pierre Mayaudon, ambassador and head of delegation, Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh; Martin Rama, chief economist, South Asia Region, World Bank; Christopher Woodruff, professor of Development Economics University of Oxford; Peter McAllister, executive director, Ethical Trading Initiative; Jill Tucker, head of Supply Chain Innovation & Transformation, C&A Foundation, and Gilbert F. Houngbo, deputy director-general, International Labor Organization, among others.Seminar sessions will include discussions on the road ahead, collaborative and responsible sourcing for sustainable growth and discussions on business policy and environment.Not on the agenda, but expected to come up along the sidelines during the question-and-answer periods is an issue that has been garnering international attention over the last two months: labor rights.The apparel industry in Bangladesh employs more than 4.4 million workers, more than 80 percent of whom are women.As non-governmental organizations and labor unions continue to call for the release of labor leaders and workers who were detained and jailed by Bangladesh authorities following protests and calls for wage hikes in December 2016, industry analysts believe that the forum could provide an avenue for discussion.Global rights groups have been calling for an increase in wages for labor — the minimum wage for garment workers is $68 a month, following an increase three years ago. There is also concern about the detention of worker-leaders.“We are fighting back to gain the release of the jailed workers and insist on basic trade union rights in Bangladesh,” Philip Jennings, general secretary of UNI Global Union said in a statement this week. “The government is acting unfairly and arrogantly. This repression is ultimately damaging to their number-one export earner.”Meanwhile, IndustriALL has been coordinating a campaign together with UNI Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation to "defend trade unionists and end the repression of trade unions in Bangladesh."To this end, a consolidated campaign has included protests outside Bangladesh embassies and consulates in the U.S., Europe and Australia on Wednesday and Thursday, with protests in more than 16 cities including Berlin, Geneva, London, New York, Ottawa and Kathmandu.Human Rights Watch has called for global brands and donors attending the Feb. 25 summit to “call on the government to stop all persecution of union leaders and protect workers’ freedom of association."“Targeting labor activists and intimidating workers instead of addressing their wage grievances tarnishes Bangladesh’s reputation and makes a mockery of government and industry claims that they are committed to protecting worker’s rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
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