Sustainability in Focus for Sweden and Bangladesh in the RMG sector

In the process of covering regular conversations and thoughts of different diplomats recently team Textile Focus had a conversation with H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde, Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh. In the conversation, H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde talked about the Bangladesh RMG industry and the bilateral relations between Bangladesh & Sweden. Key discussion points are mentioned below for our readers-

Photo: H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde, Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh

Textile Focus: How would you define the RMG sector in Bangladesh for Sweden?

H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde: The RMG- sector in Bangladesh is of high strategic and economic importance for both Bangladesh and Sweden in terms of business and trade, growth, and employment opportunities. The European Union is the largest importer of RMG, and Bangladesh remains the second-largest source of clothing for Europe. Recently, Bangladesh attained the highest growth among the top ten apparel suppliers in the EU.

Bangladesh has emerged as a key sourcing hub for many Swedish fashion brands such as H&M, Lindex, IKEA, Gina Tricot, KappAhl, and others. Many Swedish RMG brands have been in Bangladesh for decades and both witnessed and contributed to the remarkable economic journey of the country.
In 2022, Sweden and Bangladesh celebrated 50 years of bilateral relations. We will move towards a future partnership that has an even stronger focus on increasing business relations, not least when it comes to the wider domain of sustainability which will be important for the RMG sector, and many other industries, going forward.

Textile Focus: What is the overall ambition of Sweden for the RMG sector in Bangladesh?

H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde: Sweden will continue to be a reliable and committed partner to Bangladesh in promoting sustainability within the RMG sector. Many Swedish RMG brands have ambitious climate goals and are seen as frontrunners when it comes to prioritizing sustainability. At the same time, Sweden is world-leading in innovation and Genentech solutions. Swedish companies have much to offer when it comes to green and climate-smart technologies, advanced skills and solutions that could benefit the green transition in the RMG sector. Sweden is well-placed to support the sector by bringing in proven technology solutions, sharing global best practices and helping drive policy-oriented multi-stakeholder dialogues to promote sustainability.

We identify this topic as a clear potential area for further cooperation between Sweden and Bangladesh that would sustain and strengthen Bangladesh’s competitiveness within the RMG sector, and at the same time respond to the changing consumer demands, forthcoming EU regulations, the companies’ climate ambitions and the overall international goals and commitments on sustainable development.

Textile Focus: Which Swedish initiatives in Bangladesh can take this ambition and partnership forward?

H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde: One initiative that we are particularly proud of is the “Sustainable Fashion Platform by Sweden”. The Embassy of Sweden in Bangladesh, together with Business Sweden, the Swedish brands H&M, IKEA, and Lindex, along with the Nordic Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NCCI) and the Sweden-Bangladesh Business Council (SBBC), has set up this initiative. The purpose of the platform is to combine and coordinate efforts on sustainability within the RMG sector in Bangladesh under one umbrella, and in that process strengthen and sustain Bangladesh’s position as the preferred destination of sourcing for textile and RMG companies. The aim is to explore viable opportunities for Sweden and Bangladesh to scale up the partnership within sustainability.

Photo: Sweden-Bangladesh matchmaking workshop to support green transition across the RMG sector

The platform consists of two tracks: One track focuses on matchmaking between Swedish RMG brands, their suppliers, and Swedish greentech companies. Recently, for instance, we organized a matchmaking event with an incoming business delegation of Swedish and Nordic greentech companies. The delegation visited big Bangladeshi suppliers of the Swedish RMG brands H&M, Lindex and IKEA to get a better insight of the ground realities, practical needs and possibilities for future collaborations.
The second track focuses on policy dialogues with relevant Bangladeshi and Swedish stakeholders to discuss possible opportunities and necessary reforms for cooperation going forward. We have identified three main focus areas: Renewable Energy, Circularity and Water, and we are planning a series of policy dialogues on these topics. The first one, on with a focus on renewable energy within the RMG sector, recently took place and yielded some concrete leads for follow-up.

Textile Focus: What is the importance of the green shift for Bangladesh in the RMG sector?

H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde: We know that the private sector plays a crucial role in both setting the agenda and offering demand-driven solutions to help achieve our shared commitments under the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Looking at the RMG sector, many companies, not least Swedish, have already adopted ambitious climate goals. This makes it necessary for them to reform their global supply chains. For them, it is both high-time and business-critical to ensure green business models and sustainable production processes among suppliers across the supply chain. Ultimately, this will be a major factor in sourcing decisions going forward. In addition, we also see a global shift in consumer awareness with more priority given to sustainable consumption and green lifestyles. There is an increasing will from consumers to make sure that the products they are buying are sustainable – not only when it comes to emissions and renewable energy but also the overall environmental impact and carbon footprints.

There are multiple important changes in both regulations and policies related to the green transition coming our way, that underline the importance of continued coordinated efforts to promote sustainability. The EU Due Diligence Regulation on sustainability is one, and if we look at Bangladesh specifically, the upcoming LDC graduation is another. These changes remind us of the importance of jointly finding solutions to facilitate a green and sustainable transition. This can also be seen as an opportunity – paving the path for cooperation and innovation, including within trade and investments. 

Textile Focus: What other Swedish lessons and priorities can be drawn for the RMG sector in Bangladesh?

H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde: Sustainability has been an overarching priority for Sweden for a long time, and we have – naturally – made some valuable lessons learned. Our private sector fully supports these ambitions, and civil society and the concept of sustainability is also deeply rooted in the lifestyle of many Swedes, including finding ways to reduce, reuse and recycle for the benefit of the environment. We wish to have a broader partnership with Bangladesh to find exciting ways to collaborate within sustainability. For example, Sweden has many lessons learned on cultivating economic growth whilst simultaneously pursuing the reduction of CO2 emissions and energy consumption. Currently, 98% of Sweden’s energy grid is carbon-free, and more than 60% of Sweden’s electricity generation is from renewable sources. Sweden is also leading the way towards a low-carbon economy globally, with its sustainable energy innovations and technology solutions that are powering local and global spaces worldwide. Swedish investments, research, and natural resources for green solutions are playing a central role in global energy collaborations globally. This includes offering innovation in production, distribution, and storage across the global value chains.

Photo: H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde, Swedish Ambassador to Bangladesh is with Mr. Shahriar Alam, State Minister of foreign relations, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Textile Focus: Finally, how can Bangladesh strengthen its commercial ties with Sweden?

H.E. Alexandra Berg von Linde: Bangladesh is often described as the land of untapped opportunities, and we see a good potential for increased trade between Sweden and Bangladesh. I have already mentioned the potential of increased cooperation and investment in sustainability and green transition within the RMG sector, but we see potential in other areas related to sustainability as well such as circularity, digitalization, urban planning, smart cities, and transport to mention a few areas. We have more than 50 Swedish companies in Bangladesh, and we see a growing interest in Bangladeshi markets. The Swedish Embassy looks forward to further strengthening the commercial ties and continuing our journey as more Swedish companies are motivated to partner with Bangladesh. For that, it is also important that Bangladesh continues to improve its business climate so that more companies see the potential of Bangladesh as an attractive business destination. Our bilateral relationship is stable, dynamic, and growing and we want to cooperate in continuing to build a sustainable partnership for the future!