There is a lot for Bangladesh to celebrate in the latest World Bank research on global poverty and inequality.
The new report, entitled “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2016: Taking on Inequality”, uses revised data to give a more accurate estimate of how many poor people live in Bangladesh. What the report shows is that 18.5 percent of the population was poor in 2010 compared with 44.2 percent in 1991.
This is a major achievement that will receive global recognition on October 17 when the World Bank Group marks End Poverty Day with the Bangladesh people at an event in Dhaka.
This achievement means that . It means that Bangladesh beat the deadline by an impressive five years in achieving Millennium Development Goal number 1, an internationally recognized target to cut extreme poverty rates by half by 2015.
It is worth remembering how far Bangladesh has come.
Of the 56 poorest countries, over half had no private investment in infrastructure in the past five years. And in 2015, only 14 energy, transport and water projects involving private investment were concluded in that whole group of 56 countries—with all of them occurring in just eight of the countries. In the past five years, only one country – Bangladesh – has seen private investment in infrastructure each year. Given that well-structured private infrastructure projects can bring a useful infusion of management (and sometimes money) to help provide better quality and access to infrastructure services, this seems like a missed opportunity. Here are five suggestions for actions that governments can take immediately to improve their chances of attracting good quality private management and financing for some infrastructure services.
There is now a huge window of opportunity for South Asia to create more apparel jobs, as rising wages in China compel buyers to look to other sourcing destinations. Our new report – Stitches to Riches?: Apparel Employment, Trade, and Economic Development in South Asia – estimates that the region could create 1.5 million new apparel jobs, of which half a million would be for women. And these jobs would be good for development, because they employ low-skilled workers in large numbers, bring women into the workforce (which benefits their families and society), and facilitate knowledge spillovers that benefit the economy as a whole.
But for these jobs to be created, our report finds that apparel producers will need to become more competitive – chiefly by (i) strengthening links between the apparel and textile sectors; (ii) moving into design, marketing, and branding; and (iii) shifting from a concentration on cotton products to including those made from man-made fibers (MMFs) – now discouraged by high tariffs and import barriers. These suggestions recently drew strong support from panels of academics and representatives from the private sector and government when the report was launched mid-year in Colombo, Delhi, Dhaka, and Islamabad. South Asia is now moving on some of these fronts but a lot more could be done.
Moving up the apparel value chain
Stitches to Riches? finds that South Asia’s abundant low-cost labor supply makes it extremely cost competitive (except for possibly Sri Lanka). But rapidly rising living costs in apparel manufacturing hubs, coupled with international scrutiny, are increasing pressure on producers to raise wages. Plus, countries like Ethiopia and Kenya, who enjoy a similar cost advantage, are entering the fray, and some East Asian countries already pose a big challenge. The good news is that the policy reforms needed to keep the apparel sector competitive would likely benefit other export industries and transform economies (view end of the blog).
On April 24, 2013, a building called Rana Plaza in Dhaka came crashing down on thousands of workers, killing more than 1,100 and injuring more than 2,500 individuals. Unlike any other building collapse, this received widespread international attention - and continues to do so - because the building housed factories that sewed garments for many European and American clothing brands. As a result, a chunk of blame for the collapse and deaths was placed on retailers and brands that outsourced their work to Bangladesh, and particularly Rana Plaza.
Since the tragedy, these retailers and companies, both big and small, utilized several brand reputation management strategies. This, in turn, impacted the policies of the garment industry in Bangladesh. Primarily, two retailer blocs, The Accord and The Alliance, emerged which have created their own local and international dynamics.
The Accord is a legally binding agreement that has been signed by many European and North American companies and allows for factories to be vetted and shut down in case of non-compliance with safety standards. The Alliance, signed by North American groups such as Walmart and JC Penny, however, does not guarantee any such protections and allows companies to use their own rules with any legal requirements.
Interestingly, many companies who are either part of The Alliance or The Accord, choose not to publicise their participation in such agreements on their own websites. This allows them minimize any attention that could turn into criticism while still taking part in initiatives in case there ever is an inquiry from media, regulators, or other interested parties.
While some cities have grown, others still lag behind. Such inequalities in development are usually characterized by weak economic performance, low human development indicators, and high concentration of poverty. For example, Mexico achieved incredible growth as a nation, yet per capita income in the northern states is two or three times higher than in the southern states. Disparities in other social and infrastructure metrics are even more dramatic.
This is part of a series of blogs focused on the Sustainable Development Goals and data from the 2016 Edition of World Development Indicators. This blog draws on data from the World Bank’s Rural Access Index and on results presented in the report Measuring Rural Access: using new technologies
Just over half of the rural population in Nepal lives within 2 kilometers of a road in good or fair condition as measured by the Rural Access Index (RAI) in 2015, leaving around 10.3 million rural residents without easy access. The map shows how the RAI varies across the country: in the southern lowlands, where both road and population density are high, the RAI is around 80 percent in some districts. In the more rugged northern regions, lower road density and poor road quality leave many disconnected, resulting in a low RAI figure – in many places less than 20 percent.
The China sourcing conundrum
In conversations with U.S. and European retailers and brands, ELEVATE – a company formed in 2013 to support corporate social responsibility – finds that apparel buyers rate diversifying away from China as one of their top three sourcing goals.
This is not to suggest that there is a desire to exit China – which currently holds by far the largest share of global apparel trade, at 41 percent – but rather a need to significantly reduce dependence on product from China, owing to rising costs, factory closures, unenthusiastic second generation family ownership, new attitudes about working in factories, and a perception that China wants to move to higher-value manufacturing. Sourcing and procurement organizations feel uncertain, and uncertainty is not a friend of supply chains.
The problem is that for all its uncertainty, China still has a huge base of factories, a well-developed transport infrastructure, and a comprehensive eco-system that supplies cut-and-sew operations, and management that has matured with years of experience. Even if a buyer would like to give another country an opportunity, many corporate risk managers view certain countries or regions as quite challenging for doing business.
South Asia could seize this opportunity by better meeting requirements – besides competitive costs – that are vital to global buyers. These include: (i) quality, which is influenced by the raw materials used, skill level of the sewing machine operator, and thoroughness of the quality control team; (ii) lead time and reliability, which are greatly affected by the efficiency and availability of transportation networks and customs procedures; and (iii) social compliance and sustainability, which has become central to buyers’ sourcing decisions in response to pressure from corporate social responsibility campaigns by non-governmental organizations, compliance-conscious consumers, and, more recently, the increased number of safety incidents in apparel factories.
Surveys of global buyers show that East Asian apparel manufacturers rank well above South Asian firms along these key dimensions, as noted in a new World Bank report on apparel, jobs, trade, and economic development in South Asia, Stitches to Riches (see table). So, what can South Asia, which now accounts for only 12 percent of global apparel trade, do to become a bigger player? An encouraging recent development is that buyers have started collaborating to facilitate new sourcing possibilities – as the case of Bangladesh illustrates.
A swelling chorus of the development community has been advocating for more flexible and adaptive programming that can respond to the twists and turns of political reform processes. They argue that in order to achieve better aid outcomes, we need to do development differently. As part of this agenda, ODI and The Asia Foundation, with the assistance of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, tracked and analysed three programmes in Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Mongolia. These programmes explicitly sought to work politically in practice, using a relatively small amount of money, a relatively short timeframe, and a focus on tangible changes. We followed attempts to achieve environmental compliance and increase exports in the leather sector in Bangladesh, and to improve solid waste management in Cambodia and Mongolia; issues identified for their potential to make important contributions (economic, health, environmental, etc.) to the wellbeing of citizens. Two of our case studies were released this month, telling the story of how the reforms unfolded and shifted strategy to better leverage the incentives of influential stakeholders, as well as the mechanics of how the Foundation supported adaptive ways of working.
How adaptation worked in practice
In each case, the programme teams (led by staff in the Foundation’s local office, and supported by a variety of contracted partners and a wider uncontracted reform network reaching both inside and outside of government) made significant changes to strategy during the implementation phase that helped to address difficult, multidimensional problems. In Cambodia, the team faced a complex and often opaque challenge in which waste collection is characterized by a single company with a long-term confidential contract that is difficult to monitor, a fee structure that does not encourage improved household waste collection, garbage collectors whose conditions do not incentivize performance, and communities that are difficult to access and do not always understand the importance of sanitary waste disposal. With a small Foundation team and limited funding, the approach relied on working with individuals selected as much for personal connections, disposition, and political know-how in working politically and flexibly, as for technical knowledge. The team began by cultivating relations between City Hall and the single contractor providing solid waste management services, then moved to work with the sole provider to improve their delivery, and finally, resolved to end the single contractor model in favour of competition.