People with special abilities, generally known as persons with disabilities, who constitute 10 per cent of the total population, are very much part of our society. Unfortunately, this huge number of population mostly remain unemployed and are thought to be a burden of their family, society and country! Bangladesh Readymade Garment (RMG) industry is the highest employment provider which has employed around 4.5 million workers. This sector has the potential to absorb this unutilised "special people" and convert them into useful workforces for society. This dream of a "fair society" could be materialised if the country and society adopt an inclusive business policy for the industry. An inclusive business is a sustainable business that benefits all sections of society, including physically challenged as well as lower-income groups. It is a business initiative that, keeping its for-profit nature, contributes to poverty reduction through inclusion of all members of society without any discrimination in its value chain. In simple words, inclusive business is all about including the disadvantaged people in the business process.
Workplace inclusiveness is primarily meant to create social awareness about accessible workplace for all the people, irrespective of physical condition. Accessible workplace includes policies, practices and commitment from management as well as executives with regard to employment of persons with disabilities. Accessible communication comprising publications along with notice board or website or official letters and inclusive recruitment policy, promotion and career development should be targeted for the persons with disabilities, avoiding any kind of discrimination.
Surveys show that accessible workplace ensures better job retention and enhances job performance and work quality, with better safety records. They reveal that staff retention is 72 per cent higher among people with disabilities and 86 per cent of employed persons with disabilities are rated average or better attendance.
Researches also suggest that more diverse workplaces, including employment of people with special abilities, create a wider range of solutions to business issues. It is an established fact that diversity promotes innovations and better work environment. This also helps improve the image of a brand or factory. According to a study conducted by the US Consumer Attitude Towards Companies, some 87 per cent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that they would prefer to give business to companies who practise disability inclusion in workplace, and 92 per cent of customer respondents are more favourable to companies that hired people with disabilities.
One of the myths about disability inclusion is that it is a very expensive exercise -- companies have to make additional investments to make their workplaces inclusive. This myth doesn't stand up if we look at the statistics and researches which have been carried out. Researches find that most people with disabilities require no additional special measures.
Recently, Bangladesh Employers Federation with the support of ILO has launched Bangladesh Business and Disability Network. This is a one-stop solution to provide assistance for the people with disabilities to be inclusive in the world of business.
A survey shows that more than 90 Bangladeshi companies have hired persons with disabilities in recent times. Keya Group alone hired 1,400 employees with disabilities. Other notable companies are BEXIMCO, Renata, etc.
Many Bangladeshi RMG entrepreneurs have employed a good number of persons with disabilities in line with their Corporate Social Responsibility. Leading garment groups, namely Ananta, Shin Shin and Bitopi, have introduced the employment of persons with disabilities in their recruitment policy. This is for the first time such a policy has been introduced in the industry on their own initiative. The ILO-supported Centre of Excellence project has helped incorporate such policy, making it a permanent feature. The Centre of Excellence for Bangladesh Apparel Industry (CEBAI) played a vital role in this regard. Srinivas B Reddy, Country Director at International Labour Organisation, Bangladesh Office, emphasised ILO's firm conviction that inclusion is at the heart of ensuring social justice and equitable society. All citizens need to share benefits of development. Growth that is not inclusive can lead to deep inequalities in society and threaten the prosperity of all. When it comes to inclusiveness in business, two groups among many can certainly make major contribution -- women and persons with disabilities. Atiqul Islam, President of CEBAI, urged the garment factory owners to have inclusive business policy as it ensures better working environment without any discrimination as well as better image of Bangladesh RMG industry.
Ananta Group has adopted inclusive business policy as its employment procedure. Inamul Haq Khan, Managing Director of the company, said, "We have been employing people with disabilities for many years because we found that people facing some challenges are more intelligent, educated and more loyal to the company. We like loyal and productive people as they have those qualities. This also encouraged us to start a programme for them and we found them performing very well and we are increasing their number."
Shin Group has an inclusive business policy, recognises the following obligations towards its process:
l Respect & ensure that an employee's disability status is personal and will be treated as confidential.
l Foster an environment free from discrimination, stigmatisation and/or harassment.
l Administer insurance benefits ensuring the employee will receive the same benefits coverage provided to other employees, subject to any lawful exclusions and/or limitations of the insurer.
l Provide reasonable accommodation and/or any special workplace facilities that may be required in response to an approved request for reasonable accommodation.
l Protect the rights of all persons with disability with respect to employment-related issues.
l Ensure continuation of job of any workers/staff of the company who become temporarily or permanent disabled due to accident or sickness during on-duty and off-duty hours, through rehabilitation and reintegration process.
Miran Ali, Managing Director of Bitopi Group, finds that inclusion of persons with disabilities and gender empowerment help develop a productive workforce. He identified high turnover rate as one of the biggest challenges of the garment sector. Many factories have monthly staff turnover up to 6 to 7 per cent. A better business policy can encourage workers to stay longer with the company that would reduce training cost and increase productivity. Technology has also made it easier. Bitopi and other companies which have adopted inclusive business policy have developed community linkages to encourage people with disabilities in the local community to work in their factories. Through this effort, marginalised people of society have started working in the factories and turning them into economic contributors for the family as well as society.
Bangladesh government lately but righteously came forward to be very supportive to the disability inclusion process. In addition to ensuring fair and justified treatment at different government services, the Department of Technical Education has decided to keep five per cent admission quota for people with disability in all training institutions.
Inclusive business policy has proved its contribution in the area of higher productivity and better working environment. Such initiatives are contributing to the growth of Bangladesh RMG industry. All stakeholders should work together for the betterment of this industry which is the lifeline of the country's economy.
Mehdi Mahbub is the President of Bangladesh RMG Centre (www.rmgcentre.com).