Breadcrumb

Bangladesh

The role of CSR

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries. More than 40 percent of its population can be classified as extremely poor (German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) 2010). While economic growth has averaged roughly six percent since 2004, the urgent problems of inadequate infrastructure and corruption continue to impede further growth. Along with employment in the textile industry, remittances from expatriate Bangladeshis working in the Gulf region are an important source of income. These payments make up some 11 percent of GDP, a larger share than in any other country in the world. The informal economy plays a major role in Bangladesh, leading not only to low tax revenues, but also to low educational levels and unfavorable working conditions.

Some CSR activities are being carried out in Bangladesh, many of them by companies that are members of textile associations such as the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA). The Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DDCI), think tanks like the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and banks (Standard Chartered Bank) are involved in other initiatives.

The government has no explicit policy on CSR, but some of the ministries, such as the Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Information, are encouraging private industry to engage in CSR activities, which are also tax deductible, for example donations.

The United Nations Global Compact brings together representatives of private industry, UN agencies, employee associations and civil-society organizations to promote social and environmental initiatives. 

Companies also enjoy the support of two private institutions with CSR expertise: the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) and the CSR Center Bangladesh. The BEI facilitates partnerships and programs in the private sector that are working to achieve Bangladesh’s development goals, and it also organizes the local Global Compact network. The CSR Center Bangladesh identifies cases in which companies are not adequately implementing social and environmental standards and provides tools to help them improve their performance. It also serves as a network for the exchange of views and experiences. Both institutions provide a good contact point for companies seeking to become involved in CSR activities in Bangladesh.

CSR understanding

Civil society, businesspeople and politicians in Bangladesh view CSR in terms of philanthropy, particularly in the schools and the healthcare sector. This focus is also rooted in the country’s Islamic tradition of calling upon those with more resources to help the disadvantaged. Accordingly, companies are expected, most of all, to engage in charitable works, for example by providing donations or in-company training programs.


A strong NGO movement has taken root in Bangladesh during the past few decades, led by the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) and the Grameen initiatives under the leadership of Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus. These organizations are active in many areas of society, and they assume responsibilities in the educational and healthcare sectors that are handled elsewhere by the government. They act as critical observers and call attention to such issues as corruption, child labor and unacceptable working conditions. In many cases they also partner with companies to solve social problems. In addition, they set up their own "social businesses” to deal with social challenges. The best-known example is the Grameen Bank, which began offering microloans to the poor more than 30 years ago. Since its inception, the Grameen Bank has served eight million customers and provided loans worth nine billion dollars.


Multilateral and bilateral organizations are involved in a number of initiatives to assist companies in their CSR activities.

  • The PROGRESS (Promotion of Social, Environmental and Production Standards in the Ready-Made Garment Sector) program, which is operated by Germany’s federally owned international cooperation enterprise GTZ on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), promotes compliance with social, environmental and production standards in the textile industry. 
  • In 2008, the International Labor Organization (ILO) launched an initiative to create green jobs. It is involved, for example, in a public-private partnership (PPP) with Grameen Shakti, one of the enterprises in the Grameen Group, which distributes solar systems to rural areas of Bangladesh.  Among other things, this initiative trains women to maintain solar panels.
  • Bangladesh is one of the main recipients of aid from the Asian Development Fund, which was established by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The bank supports Grameen Phone, a Grameen Group company that makes mobile telephones available to the rural population, among other activities. 

Expectations towards companies

Companies are expected to contribute to society, particularly by engaging in philanthropic activities (donating money, for example). This is considered to be their moral responsibility.

Foreign companies also consider the expectations of their sales markets. Since very few German companies have their own production facilities in Bangladesh, they often have to rely on their suppliers to demonstrate social responsibility, for example in their treatment of employees. Companies – in the textile industry, for instance –  therefore encourage their suppliers to improve working conditions.  Many German companies have developed mechanisms for monitoring their suppliers and organize training programs to improve job safety or reduce pollution, to mention only a few examples.

Additional initiatives by German companies include the following:

Basic conditions

Government regulations – Implementation of international regulations
Implementation of international regulations


The ILO core labor standards (right to collective bargaining, elimination of forced labor, elimination of child labor and ban on discrimination) are reflected in the country’s labor legislation. Active efforts are made to disseminate these standards through radio and television campaigns, posters, workshops and round-table events. Basic and further training programs are offered as well, for example for factory inspectors.

Despite these efforts, however, there is a lack of widespread awareness of the standards, and they are not always observed. Weak government structures make it practically impossible to enforce existing regulations. Corruption is widespread, and constitutes another obstacle to the implementation of legal requirements. In addition, there are major weaknesses in the judicial system. The prospect of a long and expensive trial usually prevents employees from initiating legal action against their employers. In some cases, however, support from NGOs has allowed people to successfully assert their rights through litigation.

Economic initiatives – CSR tools for private industry

GLOBAL COMPACT network

The on-site contact is the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute, an independent think tank that promotes the growth of private industry. Its aim is to encourage sustainable development and identify growth opportunities, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises.

Contact:
Ms. Shahaman S. Zaman (CEO)
CSR Center, Bangladesh Enterprise Institute
Email: ceo (at) csrcentre-bd (dot) org
http://www.bei-bd.org 

Areas of activity

Poverty

Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries (LDC). More than 40 percent of the population is living below the national poverty line (defined as having access to fewer than 2,221 kilocalories of food per day). Malnutrition is a widespread problem that has been exacerbated by the food crisis of 2007/08 and the resulting increase in food prices. Children are particularly affected by malnutrition (2005: 40 percent of all children under the age of five).

Basic information

  • Life expectancy: Total population: 62 years (2003) 
  • Infant mortality: Total: 65 deaths/1,000 births (2004)
  • Human Poverty Index ranking: 112th of 135 (2009)
  • HDI for Bangladesh: 0.543 (146th of 182 countries)
  • Gini Index: 34% (2000)
  • Population below the poverty line: 40%

The government has launched programs to fight poverty: The Asrayan Project, for example, works to provide adequate housing and education as well as to achieve a binding legal framework for landowners (http://www.abashanpmo.gov.bd/).

Participants

Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ)
http://www.gtz.de/en/weltweit/asien-pazifik/604.htm

German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)
http://www.bmz.de/de/laender/partnerlaender/bangladesh/index.html

NETZ e.V.

NETZ is a nonprofit association that focuses on working together with Bangladesh to promote the country’s development. Since 1989, the association has been assisting people who are particularly affected by poverty by implementing self-help projects related to nutrition, education, health and human rights. To that end, Netz e.V. partners with qualified organizations that have grassroots support. http://www.bangladesch.org/

BRAC

BRAC is one of the largest non-governmental development aid organizations in the world, with activities in 64 districts in Bangladesh, over seven million members in its microfinance group, nearly 40,000 primary schools and a large number of volunteers.  It employs a total of some 120,000 people, most of them women. The organization offers numerous microfinancing and educational programs in nine Asian and African countries and reaches roughly 110 million people.  www.brac.net

Grameen Bank Ltd.

Under the leadership of its founder, Prof. Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank has revolutionized traditional lending methods. Its microloans, most of them granted to women, have led to sustainable improvement in Bangladesh's living conditions. The Group also includes numerous other companies and initiatives in such areas as communications, health and construction. www.grameen-info.org

With their various initiatives, NGOs such as BRAC and Grameen are also involved in fighting poverty, for example by upgrading the communications infrastructure, increasing the energy supply, promoting healthcare and improving infrastructure, as well as offering microloans and insurance (www.grameen-info.org).

Company examples

BASF Grameen Ltd

BASF SE and Grameen Healthcare Trust established the joint venture BASF Grameen Ltd. in March 2009. Its objectives are to improve healthcare and provide business opportunities for poverty-stricken members of Bangladeshi society. To that end, BASF Grameen Ltd. is planning to introduce two BASF products: dietary supplement sachets containing vitamins and micronutrients and impregnated mosquito nets that offer protection against insect-borne disease.
http://www.basf.com/group/corporate/de/sustainability/economy/
social-business

Otto Group

The Otto mail-order group and Grameen have created a joint venture to launch the Grameen Otto Textile Company, a textile factory that maintains high labor standards.  Its profits are managed by the Grameen Otto Trust and used exclusively to improve the life circumstances of employees, their families and their communities.
http://www.ottogroup.com/uploads/media/091111_Grameen_Otto_
Group_JV_dt.pdf

 

Education

For many Bangladeshi children, attending primary school is not a given. While public primary schools do not charge fees, many families are unable to afford the necessary uniforms and materials.  Moreover, schools are often located far from children’s homes, and paying for daily transportation is beyond the means of many parents.

Basic information

  • Public spending on education (share of GDP): 2.7% (2007), ranks 151st worldwide
  • Compulsory school attendance: 5 years
  • Rate of school enrollment: 86.4% (2008)
  • Literacy (definition: individuals ≥ 15 years of age who can read and write): Total population: 47.9%; male: 54%; female: 42.2% (2001 census)
  • HDI Education Index ranking: 146th     
  • Average number of years of education: Total population: 8; male: 8; female: 8 (2004)

Few families in Bangladesh can afford to send their children to a secondary school. First, these schools charge fees, and second, many families depend on the income their children can bring in by working. According to UNICEF, some 4.9 million children in Bangladesh work on a regular basis to help support their families. Other obstacles include long distances, outdated schools and materials and a lack of qualified teachers. In most cases, a level of education comparable to international standards can be achieved only with the help of privately financed supplementary instruction, which only a small percentage of the population can afford.

Participants

Alphabangla e. V. – Education for Bangladesh
Alphabangla is a nonprofit association that finances a school project in the village of Syedpur http://www.alphabangla.de/

Andheri-Hilfe e.V. Bonn
Andheri-Hilfe Bonn is an independent development cooperation organization. It is currently supporting some 150 projects and programs in India and Bangladesh aimed at furthering the social and economic development of the poorest members of those countries’ societies. Its support focuses mainly on social work, education, health, agriculture and rural development. www.andheri-hilfe.de

BESCO - Hilfe für Bangladesch e. V.
BESCO is a nonprofit voluntary relief organization focusing on education and socio-cultural development in Bangladesh. http://www.besco-hfb.de/

Lichtbrücke e.V.
Lichtbrücke is a registered association seeking to help people help themselves, so that they can live a life in dignity. The association focuses on projects that take an integrated approach to the problems of rural areas and slums in Bangladesh.  http://www.lichtbruecke.com/22-0-der-verein.html

NETZ Partnership for Development and Justice
NETZ is a nonprofit association that focuses on working together with Bangladesh to promote the country’s development. Since 1989, the association has been assisting people who are particularly affected by poverty by implementing self-help projects related to nutrition, education, health and human rights. To that end, Netz e.V. partners with qualified organizations that have grassroots support. http://www.bangladesch.org/

According to the World Bank, there are about 80 public and private universities in Bangladesh. The percentage of the population with post-secondary education is still very small. It is estimated that only roughly 12 percent of all school leavers go on to attend a university.

Company examples

Corporate Business Solutions (CBS)

Corporate Business Solutions (CBS) has been involved since 2005 in projects to promote education in Bangladesh. In a four-year effort, a primary school for 180 children was established in the village of Uttar Gidari. The company is now involved in another school project. 
The CBS-Project

Lower Saxony Teaching Exchange

In the “Teaching Exchange” project, teachers and representatives of non-school educational institutions from Lower Saxony and Bremen, Bangladesh, Brazil, South Africa and Tanzania are collaborating on a handbook. It is intended for both teachers and students in the world’s northern and southern countries, and will outline global-learning approaches to teaching about sustainable development, provide basic information on relevant world topics, outline different perspectives and offer suggestions for teaching and learning series.  http://www.nibis.de/nibis.phtml?menid=2758

Metro Group

In cooperation with the national association of textile manufacturers (BKMEA - Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers & Exporters Association), METRO will be opening a daycare center for 60 children in July 2010. In addition to providing care for these children, the center will promote learning and development. Courses for mothers will be offered on the topics of health, hygiene and birth control.
http://www.metrogroup.de/servlet/PB/menu/1258080_l1/index.htm

Opportunities and risks
The Bangladeshi public is aware that education offers an opportunity for a better future and for the country’s development. It is clear that education is one of the most important areas where action is needed, and corporate involvement in this sphere is welcomed. The government in Dhaka is also aware of serious weaknesses in the educational system. A lack of skilled workers can stand in the way of plans to attract foreign investors. German companies, which have a great deal of experience in the field of vocational training, might become involved in this area.

Health

Basic information

  • Public spending on health (share of GDP): 3.1% (2002)
  • Infant mortality: Total: 65 deaths/1,000 births (2004)
  • Maternal mortality: More than 300 deaths/100,000 births
  • Child malnutrition: 40% of children under the age of 5 (2005)
  • HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in the total population: <1%
  • HIV/AIDS sufferers: 12,000 (2007)
  • Life expectancy: Total population: 62 years (2003)

In 2007, WHO concluded that only slight progress had been made in Bangladesh toward achieving the Millenium Development Goals, with the exception of a reduction in child malnutrition and success in providing drinking water. Factors leading to a low life expectancy include to diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and AIDS, as well as malnutrition. Women have a particularly high risk of dying in childbirth because of infections.

Participants

Grameen Kallyan
Grameen Kalyan is an offshoot of the Grameen Bank that specializes in improving healthcare in rural Bangladesh.
http://grameenkalyan.org/GK%20HOME.html

International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research (ICDDRb)
Through research and training, the International Center for Diarrheal Disease Research works to solve the most urgent problems of medical care, in areas ranging from obstetrics to infectious diseases.
http://www.icddrb.org/

Andheri-Hilfe e.V. Bonn
Andheri-Hilfe Bonn is an independent development cooperation organization. It is currently supporting approximately 150 projects and programs in India and Bangladesh aimed at furthering the social and economic development of the poorest members of those countries’ societies. Its support focuses mainly on social work, education, health, agriculture and rural development.
http://www.andheri-hilfe.de/

BRAC
BRAC is one of the largest non-governmental development aid organizations in the world, with activities in 64 districts in Bangladesh, over seven million members in its microfinance group, nearly 40,000 primary schools and a large number of volunteers.  It employs a total of some 120,000 people, most of them women. The organization offers numerous microfinancing and educational programs in nine Asian and African countries and reaches roughly 110 million people.
www.brac.net

The government has collaborated with WHO on a plan of action for 2008-2013 to address the country’s most urgent problems. WHO has reported that contamination of the ground water by naturally occurring arsenic in the soil poses a threat to some 20 million people. Accordingly, the government is seeking to increase the supply of filter technologies.

Company examples

BASF Grameen Ltd

BASF SE and Grameen Healthcare Trust established the joint venture BASF Grameen Ltd. in March 2009. Its objectives are to improve healthcare and provide business opportunities for poverty-stricken members of Bangladeshi society. To that end, BASF Grameen Ltd. is planning to introduce two BASF products: dietary supplement sachets containing vitamins and micronutrients and impregnated mosquito nets that offer protection against insect-borne disease.  
http://www.basf.com/group/corporate/de/sustainability/economy/social-business

 

Inadequate quality standards in local pharmaceutical production are an additional challenge. This problem impedes large-scale sales and exports of generic medications, an area that could provide opportunities for economic development in Bangladesh. By participating in a public-private partnership (PPP), German companies have a good chance to improve quality standards in Bangladesh, and this is also an opportunity to open up new markets.

Political involvement

The political landscape in Bangladesh is difficult for foreigners to navigate. Activities in this area need to be carefully thought out, and they should be undertaken only in cooperation with established partners, such as local think tanks without ties to the two major parties.

 
International organizations can also ensure neutrality. Local NGOs, however, are usually associated with a particular party. German companies should avoid allowing cooperation with such partners as it might make them appear partisan, which could cause difficulties for years to come.

 

Participation in society

Basic information

  • Ethnic groups: Bengali 98%, other (including tribal groups and non-Bengali Muslims) 2% (1998) 

Bangladesh is working to achieve equality under the law for women and to guarantee women’s rights. The government has banned gender discrimination and encourages women to become involved in the political sphere. However, there is a substantial gap between the rights women have on paper and the reality of their lives. Even the courts frequently disregard women’s rights.

Participants

Bangladesh Human Rights Network
This network was established in 2001 following a workshop on “The Effective Use of the Media and the Internet to Promote Human Rights," and subsequently created an Internet-based platform to call public attention to discrimination and human rights violations. http://www.banglarights.net/index.htm

In 2004, Oxfam launched a campaign to promote women’s rights after the UN published findings indicating that nearly 50 percent of all women in Bangladesh suffer abuse and domestic violence.  The status of women in society is lower than that of men, they are burdened by dowry obligations and they have a higher mortality rate, from childhood on, as a result of malnutrition.

Environment

Because of climate change, Bangladesh is particularly hard-hit by floods, droughts and storms. It is also struggling with increasingly challenging environmental problems: Massive deforestation is leading to ever-worsening erosion. Ground water is highly contaminated with arsenic from natural deposits; in many places rivers are contaminated with bacteria. Accordingly, there are numerous opportunities for German companies to become involved in the environmental arena, for example in reforestation programs, the treatment of drinking water and nature conservancy. 

Basic information

  • CO2 emissions: 38.9 million metric tons (2005)
  • CO2 emissions per capita: 0.25 metric tons (2005)
  • Per-capital electricity consumption: 146.5 kWh
  • Per-capital water consumption (households/industry/agriculture): 220 L

Energy generation also places a burden on the environment: Fifty percent of Bangladesh’s energy is derived from the generally inefficient process of burning biomass. This reduces the fertility of the soil by robbing it of important nutrients. The power supply is inadequate: Only roughly 40 percent of the Bangladeshi population has access to electricity. Even in places where electricity is available, outages are common. Factories often need to rely on generators. German companies therefore have ample opportunities to become involved in the areas of decentralized energy supplies and renewable sources of energy.

Participants

Deutsche Gesellschaft für technische Zusammenarbeit (GTZ)
The GTZ program “Sustainable Energy for Development” (SED) serves as a source of information and contacts. Together with the Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, it is conducting a project aimed at making efficient use of existing energy resources and disseminating technologies for tapping renewable sources of energy. Among other activities, it is promoting the use of solar home systems in rural areas. http://www.gtz.de/en/praxis/1574.htm

In addition, they can put pressure on local manufacturers of industrial, agricultural and fishery products in their supply chains that have not yet introduced sustainable and environmentally friendly production methods. This can improve product quality and prevent damage to the image of German companies, for example by avoiding the use of antibiotics in shrimp production.

Company examples

Lanxess

In 2006, LANXESS joined forces with students from the University of Cottbus to start a water purification project in a village located south of Dhaka. The filter systems developed for this project are easy to use, require no maintenance and purify water quickly and economically.
http://www.lanxess.de/de/wasser/trinkwasser-aufbereitung/

Organic food producers in associations such as Naturland ensure high quality by making it possible to trace their goods back to their source. This also applies to seafood derived from ecological aquacultures in Bangladesh.

 

Data & facts

Country: People’s Republic of Bangladesh
Capital: Dhaka
Area: 147.570 qkm
Population: 161 million
Economic system: Market economy
Polity: Parliamentary democracy with a pure majority-vote system
Unemployment rate: 2.9% (2009 est.)
Inflation rate (CPIX): 5,1% (2009 est.)
GDP: 89.4 billion USD
GDP/Head: 506 USD (nominal)
Religions: Muslim (approx. 90%), Hindu (approx. 9%), Buddhist (approx. 0.6%), Christian (approx. 0.3%), Isma’ilite (approx. 0.1%) (all figures estimates)
HDI: ranking: 146th (2009)
CPI: ranking: 139th (2009)
BTI: Status Index: 63rd of 128; Management Index: 68th of 128 (2010)