The Cotton On Group’s recent supplier conference in Dhaka, Bangladesh, has brought together over one hundred suppliers to discuss production, product safety and logistics as well as celebrate the progress being made in improving the safety and operational standards of garment factories.
Mr Greg Wilcox, Australian High Commissioner to Bangladesh, attended the event for the second year and spoke of the importance of maintaining a positive trade relationship between Australia and Bangladesh. He also endorsed the impact being felt in the region as a result of the establishment of the Bangladesh Fire and Safety Accord, an initiative of which the Cotton On Group is a proud signatory.
Representatives of the Accord were also in attendance, speaking directly with the Group’s factory partners to recognise the widespread changes already achieved and continue the dialogue on long term compliance.
The introduction of the Accord last year, coupled with the Group’s continued focus on its own ethical sourcing program, has allowed for a robust auditing platform to be put in place. As a result, real traction is being made within the garment industry when it comes to the ethical supply of products.
Many of the Cotton On Group’s vendors in Bangladesh have been long term partners of the business. These relationships have acted as the foundation for change, with the Group collaborating closely with its suppliers in the region to instigate the industry improvements.
This includes the Cotton On Group’s 14 Rules To Trade which outlines the agreed expectations of the Group and its factory partners in the provision of safe work environments, the protection of human rights and zero tolerance of the use of banned materials
Hasnat Jalal, one of the Cotton On Group’s first supply partners in Bangladesh, was recognised at the conference with several awards including Most Compliant Vendor for 2014. Considered by the Group to be one of the biggest adopters of the new safety standards, Mr Jalal says the key to his success has been clear communication on issues as they arise.
“The most important thing I’ve found is that Cotton On Group want to know the problem, and help sort it out. My work is my prayer, so I am working from the heart, with honesty.”
As the Cotton On Group continues to grow its operations globally, ensuring best practice when it comes to the ethical supply of its products continues to be a key focus for the business.
The formation of a dedicated ethical sourcing team both at the Group’s global head office and on the ground in Bangladesh has enabled the Group to work closely with suppliers to identify issues, support any remediation required and monitor ongoing compliance.
David Nesbitt, Cotton On Group Ethical Sourcing Manager says that with significant progress having already been made, it is important now to maintain the momentum.
“Our message to suppliers during the conference was that we are committed for the long term. The changes that are being made industry wide in Bangladesh as a result of the Accord and our own ethical sourcing program, must be sustainable in order to have real impact long term,” he says.
“We view our vendor partners as an extension of our team and will continue to work with them to maintain open and meaningful relationships so they feel valued and equipped with the support they need.”
Mr Nesbitt was part of the Group’s head office delegation to Bangladesh which saw members of the Ethical Sourcing, Production and Supply teams participate in the conference to meet personally with supply partners and tour vendor factories.
The trip was also an opportunity for team members to see firsthand the impact of the Group’s mobile health care clinic, an initiative established earlier this year in partnership with the Assenting Action for Changing of Livelihoods Trust (AACHOL).
Established to provide vulnerable communities in the region with free access to medical care, already over 20,000 people have been treated by the mobile clinic. Health advice and illness prevention are also forming a critical component of the program’s service.
In a country where it is acknowledged there is still more work to be done, the Cotton On Group is dedicated to making a positive difference in Bangladesh. With the implementation of projects such as the mobile health clinic and the continued emphasis on sustainable improvements in the garment industry, the Group remains committed to securing long term change in the region.