Uniqlo brings fashion back to the source in Bangladesh

By Nandita Bose and Ruma Paul
Published on: Thu Jul 4, 2013
Source: Reuters

uniqlo

(Reuters) - On a bustling Dhaka street full of buyers looking for deals on export rejects and designer fakes, a flight of stairs leads up to an anomaly in a country known for producing international clothing brands - a global high street fashion store.

Uniqlo, owned by Japan's Fast Retailing Co (9983.T), is opening two stores in Bangladesh, a favorite low-cost sourcing hub for many international retailers but a country where, until now, they have not sold their clothes.

Inside the brightly lit confines of the larger of Uniqlo's two Dhaka stores, staff frantically rushed among stacks of clothing manufactured exclusively for the local market to add the final touches before a grand opening on Friday.

The Japanese retailer, in a tie-up with Bangladesh's Grameen Bank, founded by Nobel laureate Mohammad Yunus, has dared to venture into a $70 billion retail market untouched by global chains, where about 30 million people make up the middle-income bracket.

In April, more than 1,100 garment workers died in the collapse of a eight-story building in Bangladesh, putting pressure on international fashion brands to improve worker safety and livelihoods.

MIDDLE CLASS FOCUS

At 1,000 sq ft (90 sq meters), the Dhaka store is a far cry from Uniqlo's large-format shops elsewhere and stocks mostly menswear - women in Bangladesh, a largely Muslim nation, still prefer to wear traditional clothes.

A group of college students, who looked curiously at the store from across the street, had never heard of the brand.

"The store looks good from the outside. I can shop here for Eid, but not always," said Jamshed Robin, a 25-year-old political science student, looking at the price catalogue.

Eid al-Fitr is a key religious holiday and marks a major shopping period for Muslims.

A typical slim fit pair of jeans here costs 990 taka ($12.73) and a short-sleeve shirt costs 890 taka ($11.44), before a 5 percent local tax. That means they are aimed at the small but growing middle class, rather than the masses who make up the ranks of garment factory workers and who earn a minimum monthly wage of $38.

Uniqlo, on its website, says its T-shirts cost 20-30 percent more than those sold in the local market, and says it is banking that customers will pay a little more for the higher quality.

"We're not selling Uniqlo products, we're going to be selling Grameen Uniqlo which is more geared to the local market, for between about 200 and 1,000 yen ($2-$10)," said Naoto Miyazawa, a Fast Retailing spokesman in Tokyo.

SAFETY PACT

Fast Retailing has so far not joined a global safety pact for factories in Bangladesh drawn up after April's disaster at the Rana Plaza complex, in an industrial suburb north of Dhaka, preferring instead to ramp up its own inspections.

Miyazawa said the company had not yet decided whether to sign up to the pact because its details were still unclear.

Uniqlo is investing $4.6 million in Bangladesh. The company describes the initiative with micro-lender Grameen as a "social business venture" on its website and plans to reinvest the profits to alleviate poverty in rural areas.

"We want to deliver innovative designs and fashion to the middle class customers here and have plans to open more stores across several cities that will create more jobs," said Yukihiro Nitta, chief executive officer of the joint venture.

Uniqlo will hold 99 percent of Grameen Uniqlo Ltd and Grameen Healthcare Trust will hold the rest.

At its second store, in a residential middle-class suburb, the power goes out twice before its restored with a generator.

Outside 28-year-old sales executive Omar Iqbal is eager to check out the glistening store.

"It will be nice to wear a global brand to work," he said. "Will their clothes have the Uniqlo logo on them like Adidas does?" ($1 = 77.7700 Bangladesh takas)

(Additional reporting by Sophie Knight in Tokyo; Writing by Nandita Bose)

Graduates celebrate success with stars Lily Cole and Katherine Grainger

03 July 2013

Hundreds of Glasgow Caledonian University students celebrated their success today as the University’s first summer graduation ceremony took place at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre (SECC).

coleMore than 1000 students from the University’s School of Health and Life Sciences and the School of Engineering and Built Environment were joined by honorary graduates including Olympic gold medal winning rower Katherine Grainger, games designer Richard Lemarchand and international fashion model, actress and social entrepreneur Lily Cole.

GCU Chancellor Professor Muhammad Yunus welcomed graduands and their families to the SECC.

He said: “It is my great privilege to welcome you to this ceremony. Graduation is one of the most memorable occasions in everybody’s lives. I must remind you all that you are the most powerful generation in human history. You have the most amazing technology at your command and the ability to build a better world. You are superman and superwoman. You can change it all. Congratulations.”

The University also recognised Olympic athlete Katherine Grainger and model, actress and social entrepreneur Lily Cole with honorary doctorates.

GCU University Secretary Jan Hulme said Katherine was “constantly redefining world class” as she paid tribute to the athlete’s achievement in winning Team GB Olympic Gold, three Olympic Silver medals, and six-time World Championship titles.

Katherine was presented with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of the University, in recognition of her outstanding contribution in the field of sport and to honour her public service and work with charity.

Katherine said: “It’s a massive honour to get this degree. I won’t give too much advice as you all have to find your own ways in life. But I will say one thing: although you may have a good idea where your life is going you should still always be open to opportunities when they come. I didn’t think I’d be rowing and I didn’t have the idea that I’d be an Olympian and an Olympic champion. The exciting thing is that you are all at the start of your journey. It’s all there waiting for you. Good luck.”

Lily Cole, international fashion model, actress and social entrepreneur, was recognised with an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters for her outstanding contribution to humanitarian and environmental causes.

Professor Karen Stanton, Vice-Principal and Pro Vice-Chancellor for International and External Relations, said that through Lily’s work with charity and social business she had challenged people to “deal in the currency of kindness” and that Lily was one of the “most ambitious young social entrepreneurs on the world stage today.”

Lily, whose mother the artist Patience Owen attended the Glasgow ceremony, said: “It is an honour and a pleasure to be with you all today – as this is really about all the students who are graduating today. To achieve is important but I hope it never seems lofty. I think the most important things in life are really simple and it is about our attitude to life.

“For me, achievement has always come as something of a surprise when my first thought has been to follow my heart. The jumps between fashion, film and business were scary and continue to be scary but every time I’ve been rewarded. You’re at the most amazing moment right now when you can choose what it is you want to do. So I would say follow your heart, if you need to pivot in five years, pivot in five years. I wish you all the best of luck and congratulations.”

During Wednesday’s afternoon ceremony, Professor Douglas Greenhalgh, Executive Dean and Pro-vice Chancellor of the School of Engineering and Built Environment, presented games designer Richard Lemarchand with Degree of Doctor of Technology in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the fields of innovation and development.

Richard said: “When there was no such thing as a University course in games design I used to tell my friends that I’d become a doctor of video game studies. They all scoffed but thanks to you all here today I think I have won some points. I hope that all your adventures are as fun and as satisfying as mine.”

It was the first time the SECC venue has hosted a GCU graduation ceremony and staff and students watched a live screening of the proceedings in the Saltire Centre and the Deeprose Lecture Theatre, and kept up-to-date with events through our official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

Actress Phyllida Law, Professor Anne Glover and businessman Brian Duffy are among the remaining leading citizens to be honoured in ceremonies later.

Source: Glasgow Caledonian University

More success stories will take social business to next level

Md Fazlur Rahman

bs0215

Social business, which is already off to a good start, now needs some success stories to take off in a big way, experts said.

Martin Loeffler, chief executive officer (CEO) of Grameen Caldas, a social business consulting firm and incubation centre in Colombia, said the fledgling concept, which is the brainchild of Prof Muhammad Yunus, has already gained much momentum.
“The idea has already got so much attention — you just need to look at the number of people that took part in the Social Business Day event. Among them were a lot of corporations — they already believe in it.”

For the final jump to becoming a mainstream and well-established programme, he said the advocates would now have to present more concrete and successful examples.

Loeffler, also the director of California Institute for Social Business, however, does not think that social business would completely eliminate the traditional forms of business.
“We are not against anything. We are not saying that normal businesses are bad — they create a lot of social values by generating employment and giving services to consumers.”

The expert said many corporations could set up a social business arm to solve the social problems they are creating.

“Every company or institution has its footprint in terms of carbon, garbage, water usage and waste. Those problems can be taken out in a self-sustainable manner by creating social businesses around the for-profit businesses.”

Loeffler’s comments came on the sidelines of the fourth Social Business Day, which took place in Dhaka on Friday, attracting about 1,000 participants from around the world.

According to Prof Muhammad Yunus, social business is a cause-driven business where the investors or owners can gradually recoup the money invested but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.

The purpose of the investment is purely to achieve one or more social objectives through the operation of the company; no personal gain is desired by the investors.
Saskia Bruysten, co-founder and CEO of Yunus Social Business in Germany, said the idea is going places.

“Big development agencies are slowly opening their doors to social business, although they had initially said that it did not fit in their boxes. Governments, too, are getting engaged.”
She cited the invitation from the government of Sweden to solve the country’s nagging unemployment problem.

“Social business is such a fundamental concept — it is not just for international development or poor countries. It is something that addresses any social ills.”

Bruysten, who helped the EU Commission’s expert group on social business and has assisted Prof Yunus on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s MDG Advocacy Group, said they are introducing crowd funding, a concept which allows people with even $25 dollars to invest to set up a business.

The German said their goal is to reach a target when none would ask what social business is, and is very optimistic about achieving it. “The African Development Bank has invited the Yunus Social Business to come to Africa. That is a whole new continent we have not tapped.”

Meanwhile, Larry Reed, director of Microcredit Summit Campaign, a US-based organisation that promotes microfinance, said: “If I were a Bangladeshi, I would have been very proud to know that something that has been created in my country is now taking hold worldwide.”

Social business, he says, taps the desire that many people have to invest in the world’s problems and see it become a better place to live. “It provides a vehicle for people to do something.”

He said the West, which is grappling with its own problems, is also looking towards the concept conceived by Prof Yunus. “It is not just for developing countries — there are also poor people in the West.”

About keeping social businesses ethical, the anti-poverty campaigner called for some set rules and guidelines and transparency reporting system for the purpose of evaluation.
“People would then be able to back up their claims that they are doing something for the society with numbers.”

He also touched upon the current situation at the microcredit industry, where the total number of clients has gone down globally for the first time since 1997.

“The drop is largely because of the crisis in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. There is also slow growth in Bangladesh and some other countries.”

He said the number of clients is growing tremendously in Sub-Saharan Africa, and tipped the continent to be “the next big destination” for microcredit. “In fact, the highest growth in clients last year took place there,” he added.

About the Grameen Bank issue, Reed said: “It is a tragedy to see that the government is trying to step in and take over something that has been very successful. It is a wrong approach.”
“We have seen worldwide that when governments tried to run microfinance programmes they failed. It is because people do not pay the money back and the money does not go to the poor.”

“I think it is very important to recognise that the owners of Grameen Bank are the women who invested their money. No government should try to take away what the poor people have worked so hard to gain for themselves — that is just not an appropriate thing for a government to do.”

Source: The Daily Star
Published on: 30th June, 2013

Strange priorities

- Rehman Sobhan
Published on: June 21, 2013
Source: Dhaka Tribune

An initial comment on the report of the commission on the future structure of the Grameen Bank

Women 3

This comment is inspired by the recent publication of some of the recommendations of the second commission constituted by the Ministry of Finance to address the future structure of the Grameen Bank (GB), which is to be discussed at a special workshop convened on July 2 to which I have been invited. Since this report has come under discussion in the media I feel it may be useful to share my views on the issue with a wider audience.

A commission at variance with public policy

The commission has already incurred some notoriety through its suggestion that the Grameen Bank board members need to meet a certain standard of education. This assumption has now persuaded the commission to suggest that the government of Bangladesh (GoB) assert its ownership rights over Grameen Bank by bringing it closer to the legal format of Bangladesh Shilpa Bank (BSB). In this scenario the GoB would hold a majority share, not less than 51%.

This suggestion appears to be at variance with the long standing commitment of this and previous governments to reduce their share holdings in all state owned financial institutions. The present finance minister, a few years ago, threatened to take disciplinary action against state owned banks if they did not divest themselves of a part of their share portfolio, to the public.

To now resort to expanding government ownership over Grameen Bank, a well functioning institution where the government played no role at all in its management, seems perverse, to say the least. This suggestion, invoking the format of an ill fated and bankrupt public financial institution, the Bangladesh Shilpa Bank (BSB), as a role model for GB, appears particularly unfortunate.

The GB commission’s report moves beyond the issue of ownership to discuss how the GB’s borrower/members may exercise their franchise. This may be discussed at a later stage. At this point it may be stated that there are corporate bodies all over the world and even in Bangladesh with large numbers of shareholders, often running into millions. They do not need to assemble these millions of shareholders in one place to hold their AGM or to exercise their franchise and each has found a solution to deal with this problem, as has Grameen Bank.

These arrangements have neither been challenged by Grameen Bank’s women owners or have impacted adversely on the running of the bank. For a commission whose members have scant experience of running a large financial institution let alone a micro finance body to come up with a proposal to restructure a well run organisation is another example of perverse imitatives and priorities.

Educating board members

The suggestion that levels of education should be a criterion for bank membership indicates that the commission is inadequately educated about the background and nature of an organisation it is supposed to be reviewing. The very intent of the Grameen Bank, as conceived by its founder Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, was to ensure that it was owned and overseen by the poor women it was intended to serve.

This arrangement has made Grameen Bank virtually unique among the thousands of micro-finance institutions established in Bangladesh and now proliferating all over the world. The concept of ownership by the women borrowers was intended to both empower them as well as invest them with the responsibility to oversee the affairs of an organisation designed to serve them.

If no educational criteria is established for being a member of parliament, a cabinet minister or the prime minister, who are required to formulate laws and address the highly complex challenges of running a country, why should we impose any educational criteria for the board members of the Grameen Bank?

How does one judge whether a board or any equivalent entity is effectively discharging the oversight functions assigned to it? In the absence of a comparative, in-depth enquiry, the only objective measure of the quality of oversight by a board is the actual performance of the concerned entity.

Here, there is no reason to believe that the less educated women board members of Grameen Bank have been deficient in the discharge of their responsibilities over the course of the last three decades. By any objective measure Grameen Bank has outperformed most such MFI organisations not just in Bangladesh but across the world, as indeed most commercial banks in Bangladesh. We present the following measures of corporate performance:

- Grameen Bank (GB) lending operations have grown from $4.2 million in 1983 to $1.045 billion (Tk. 8,257 crore) at the end of March 2013.
- GB default rates have remained in the region of 1-3% over this period which is superior to that of any commercial bank, public or private, presided over by so called “educated” directors. This high rate of recovery has enabled GB to continuously expand its lending operations so that GB borrowers have grown from 58,320 since its inception in 1983 to 8.4 million by the end of 2012. Such a level of customer growth has few parallels anywhere in the world.
- GB’s finances have been sufficiently well managed to sustain its economic viability and the growth in its lending operation without continuous dependence on state or donor funding.

Educated members and governance failures in public financial institutions.

This record of Grameen Bank may be compared with that of the four state owned commercial banks.

- These state owned banks presumably have only “educated” members on their boards. The plethora of scandals, scams, and malfeasant conduct associated with these banks suggests that education as a qualification for bank oversight is hardly a relevant factor in determining the affairs of such organisations. Unsurprisingly, the performance of these banks, over the years, has led to periodic losses requiring bail outs from the public exchequer from successive government which was needed to recapitalise the banks in order to save them from bankruptcy. As reported by the finance minister to parliament on February 26, the capital deficit of 8 state owned banks amounts to nearly Tk. 7,150 crores as of September 30, 2012. This is impacting on the lending operation of these banks and may require further support from the government in the days ahead to sustain their viability. In his latest budget the finance minister has allocated Tk. 5,000 crores of tax payer’s money to recapitalise the financially debilitated state owned banks.
- The latest and most egregious of these scams in relation to Sonali Bank, the largest of the state owned banks and possibly the largest commercial bank in the country has left the bank with a mounting volume of defaults and in need of further injections of capital. The finance minister would have done well to initiate a commission of enquiry, to not just investigate the performance of the bank but the oversight role of its board members. Such a commission may, inter alia, investigate whether the Sonali Bank board was asleep when Tk. 3,500 crores were disbursed as credit to a single borrower, through a single branch of the bank. I have heard of no move to question whether the educational, professional, political or moral qualifications of the board of Sonali Bank were appropriate to their responsibilities.
- Common sense would suggest that a government would prioritise setting up commissions of enquiry to investigate any organisations under its full ownership that are performing so poorly that they are imposing a heavy burden on the public exchequer. The government may begin by not just setting up a commission of enquiry on the state owned banks but also the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Railway Board, the Roads and Highways Directorate, the regulatory bodies relating to building construction as well as any number of ministries and government departments whose performance has been conspicuously and consistently poor.

Getting priorities right

In the light of the serious problems facing public sector and regulatory bodies under the direct responsibility of the government, its obsession with the management and affairs of a well functioning institution with a globally recognised performance record, where it owns only 3% of the equity, defies reason and merits some explanation.

The government has not only engaged itself in the removal and replacement of the chief executive of Grameen Bank but has set up not one but two commissions/committees of enquiry into its affairs. The latest of the enquiries, by seeking to change the composition of the board of Grameen Bank by diluting the majority representation of its borrowers/members on the board, will effectively disempower the millions of owners, mostly women, of GB.

Such a move is not only unjust and undemocratic but also politically unwise since these women also happen to be voters.

Furthermore, it may serve to compromise the global credibility of the prime minister’s commitment before the United Nations to empower the poor and women. Such a move to effectively disempower 8 million low income women would bring credit neither to the prime minister nor to Bangladesh.

Such obsessive conduct by the government in relation to one institution and possibly one person, who also happens to be one of our most globally recognised and respected citizens, reflects poorly on its sense of priorities during the final months in office of this government.

Today, there are many burning issues afflicting not just the financial sector but the regime at large. The most recent of these relates to the dysfunction of its regulatory responsibilities at Savar. The latest results from the mayorial elections across

Bangladesh may add to these concerns. A large number of public organisations and regulatory bodies under the government’s direct or indirect oversight have persistently malfunctioned at heavy cost, not just to the exchequer but to the political reputation of the regime.

In its final months in office the government would do well to demonstrate a sense of priority in its governance practices by initiating enquiries into the most politically damaging and financially draining of these malfunctioning entities. This would indicate that the government is aware of these pressing problems and that some corrective responses have been initiated within the remaining tenure of this regime. 

Yunus Says Bangladesh Wage Rise Wouldn’t Damage Competitive Edge

By Kenneth Maxwell
Published on: 14th June, 2013
Source: Bloomberg.com

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus said raising minimum wages in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing industry wouldn’t push apparel companies to leave the country.

“The average wage is 25 cents an hour, making it 50 cents an hour won’t cost a leg and an arm,” Yunus, the founder of microfinance lender Grameen Bank, said today in an interview on Bloomberg Television.

Labor rights groups are pressuring companies from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) to Fast Retailing Co. (9983) to improve wages and conditions in Bangladesh’s multibillion dollar garment industry since more than 1,000 people died in the April 24 collapse of the Rana Plaza factory -- the worst industrial incident in the country’s history. Raising wages for Bangladesh’s 3 million or so garment workers would spur increases in other countries, according to Yunus.

“Prices will go up everywhere, Bangladesh will not lose its competitive edge,” the Nobel Peace Prize winner said. Executives running global retailers are “decent people,” Yunus said. Once they understand the issues at stake, they will see the need to improve wages and conditions, he said.

“The factory inspection systems need to be right,” Yunus said. The clothing that emerges from Bangladesh’s factories has good quality and the factories themselves should match that, he said.

“Maybe we were too busy negotiating prices, we didn’t look beyond,” Yunus said, referring to garment manufacturing contracts. “Today we all have to be responsible.”

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