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Face-to-Face with AKM Ahsanul Hoque

by Apparel Resources

22-April-2017  |  8 mins read

AKM Ahsanul Hoque, Director – Research and Training, CSR Bangladesh
AKM Ahsanul Hoque, Director – Research and Training, CSR Bangladesh

AOB: What according to you are the thrust areas in the field of CSR as far as garment industry is concerned?

AH: In the last one year or so, many Bangladeshi garment manufacturers have applied for LEED certification which is reflective of the focus on environment and environmental sustainability. Initially there were hardly any green factories in Bangladesh, but today majority of the entrepreneurs are going for green facilities, which covers some parts of sustainable environment portion.

Another interesting development, in the ever-evolving definition of CSR and its principles, is philanthropy turning into business models, which was not the case earlier. In my opinion, it is the right and high time to focus on CSR, and link it with a business model and profitability to achieve success and growth.

Apparel Online catches up with the Director (Research and Training) of CSR Bangladesh to know his take on Corporate Social Responsibility in the apparel industry and its various implications…

AOB: What is CSR Bangladesh doing to achieve this objective?

AH: CSR Bangladesh is basically into training, consultancy, policy making and research. Currently we are also working with a Dutch Government (NUFFIC) project titled ‘Corporate Social Responsibility, Sexual Reproductive Health & Rights and Innovative Leadership, for the RMG sector of Bangladesh’, the objective of which is to conduct research on CSR, publish case studies and benchmark practices that would encourage more and more people to implement CSR. We are also offering a course on CSR for the undergraduate level in BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology (BUFT) to ensure that the graduating students for the industry will have a clear vision and idea on CSR.

We also regularly engage with the industry through stakeholders’ meeting, involving the buyers as well as garment manufacturers to bring more awareness on CSR. Still, there are many who might not know about CSR or even the presence of CSR in Bangladesh, who could actually help them formulate CSR policies and its implementation. But we have at least initiated the process. We also organize various seminars and workshops from time to time for the industry.

AOB: How CSR can be linked with profitability, which is the bottom-line for any business?

AH: It is a fact that returns from CSR are not very tangible at all times but our job is to make it perceptible through outputs, reports, case studies and researches. Through strong monitoring and regular audits we can showcase the progress made. If I can make even 10 per cent growth on certain parameters, or certain percentage on employee turnover rate, or reducing the cost/operating expenses and so on tangible after implementing CSR, I think it would be a big motivating factor for entrepreneurs to invest more in CSR.

AOB: Percentage wise, what would be the number of garment manufacturers who are investing in CSR?

AH: A substantial number of garment manufacturers claim to involve in CSR in some way or the other; they treat philanthropy as CSR. If you consider philanthropy to be part of CSR, I would say cent per cent of the industry. But when you measure these efforts within the parameters of CSR, only a handful of organisations are doing CSR in its true sense. But let me also tell you, the connotations of CSR also differs from community to community, area to area and business to business. So it would be very difficult to put and figure it into a common format. The only thing is whenever we talk about CSR, it always comes above the compliance level.

AOB: What mechanism is in place to measure the investments in CSR and its corresponding impact?

AH: There are some reporting mechanisms, which help the organization to identify the CSR impact in their business. Organizations which spend on CSR need to involve entities like us in the whole process to ensure an independent third-party evaluation of CSR impact. This will not only bring about transparency in the whole process but also help the entrepreneurs to understand where and how to invest for maximum benefit.

AOB: Going forward, which would be the key areas for CSR according to you?

AH: It is very difficult to pinpoint specific areas as such as the need of CSR is very diverse. But yes, talking about the concept of Planet, People and Profit, wherein lot is already being done to save the environment, and also a lot more needs to be done, people could be a very important area of CSR investment. Happy workforce is always an asset of any organization. Since majority of the workforce are women, I think we should concentrate more on women’s welfare and empowerment, ensure gender equality, sexual reproductivity, health and rights, etc.

AOB: What is the Government doing to popularize CSR in the Bangladesh garment industry?

AH: The Government has announced a tax rebate of around 10 per cent for factories/organisations, who are investing in CSR significantly to encourage more and more organisations in this regard. It is also working towards formulating a CSR policy. Very soon we will see CSR not only being considered as a marketing tool for some organizations, but rather evolve as business model for all industries in the country as well as across the globe.

AOB: Do garment manufacturers allocate funds for CSR in the annual budget, as is mandatory for businesses in some countries?

AH: In the RMG sector unfortunately allocating CSR funds in the budget plan is not a common or regular practice, but yes there are some top RMG manufacturers who allocate funds for CSR in their annual budget and work accordingly. However, we as the pioneer in CSR in Bangladesh suggest or guide the entrepreneurs how to allocate funds for CSR for a sustainable and profitable business model.