A three-day global conference on safeguarding the livelihood of women workers in Bangladesh's readymade garment sector will begin on June 22.
Brac and H&M Foundation will host the virtual event titled "STITCH for RMG Global Innovation Conference," a press release said on Thursday, adding that the conference is being organised as part of the "Safeguarding through Innovation and Technology Challenge (STITCH)" project.
The project – undertaken by Brac and H&M Foundation, a concern of the global RMG giant H&M Group – aims to map the road for sustainable growth of the RMG industry through a multi-stakeholder approach.
The conference will bring together industry experts from around the world in a bid to protect the livelihoods of women garment workers, mainly from automation. Helena Helmersson, chief executive officer of H&M Group, and Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) will attend the conference among others.
Anyone interested can apply for registration through stitchforrmg.brac.net. The event is free of cost, however, confirmation of attendance will depend on the availability of capacity. Last deadline for application is 19 June.
The project, currently a 13-month pilot (from December 2020 to December 2021), is working together with buyers, suppliers, and innovators through a series of cross-sector dialogues to create new avenues for employment of women, equipping them with the necessary skills and knowledge to sustain their livelihoods in the future dominated by automation.
Although readymade garments still comprise the overwhelming share of Bangladesh's export basket (around 83% in 2020), the RMG industry is experiencing increasing competition from other nations in the sector as they are progressively opting for automation, offering to the buyers better efficiency and value.
It is estimated that around 60% workers in the sector will lose their jobs due to automation by 2041, the majority being women.
The insights and knowledge generated at the conference will be used to curate a global innovation challenge to bring ideas to increase relevant skill sets and enhance safeguarding of the workplace environment for women workers.
The winners of this innovation challenge will be nurtured and prototyped under the supervision of BRAC. A fund worth $18000 will be provided as grants to the winners for pilot implementation.
Providing more details, Strategy Lead at the H&M Foundation Charlotte Brunnstrom said, "In our work together with Brac we have high hopes to reveal what skills are needed for women in the future garment industry.
"Our long-term goal is to prepare and equip the women to work successfully alongside artificial intelligence and automation, and by this safeguard their livelihoods. The new technology can significantly improve female participation in economic life and enhance the social autonomy of women."
She continued, "Also, certain technologies might offer women the potential to bypass, or leapfrog, some of the traditional cultural and mobility barriers they face offline.
"We therefore believe attention must be drawn towards the ways in which innovation and digital tools can be directed towards advancing equality. Only appropriate efforts to skill the female workforce can lessen the negative effects."
BRAC's Executive Director Asif Saleh said, "Women have played a big role in powering Bangladesh's consistent economic growth. RMG's rise can be singularly attributed to the participation of women in its workforce.
"As the sector is going through a shift, we can't leave the women behind. Through this project, we hope to mainstream innovations that can re-skill them and also scale up innovations that can make the industry ready for a future which is technology driven and more equal."