“Kutumbita: An app changing the face of the apparels industry in Bangladesh”

July 2, 2017

On April 24, 2013, the eight-storey Rana Plaza building, just outside Dhaka, collapsed – trapping nearly 3,000 people inside. The building, a factory for world famous fashion retailers along the likes of Zara and Benetton, was clearly developing cracks in the days leading up to the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh, but the factory owners and managers still forced their employees inside the building. The collapse took the lives of more than 1,100 people and injured at least 2,000 others.

The aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster was a litmus test for the developing nation. In the world's spotlight, Bangladesh would either have to grow above and beyond the common practice of treating labour as expendable in the path of progress, or big international business would be shamed by the world media into outsourcing production elsewhere. This was the reality of the apparels industry in Bangladesh four years ago.

Things have changed to some extent. While there are issues surrounding the remunerations to the workers who survived and the families of those who perished, as a whole, the attitude towards conducting business has changed on both sides of the retailer-contractor equation. Largely thanks to the role of labour rights organizations, NGOs, international watchdogs and some state-level intervention, the workplace is becoming safer for garments workers, risks on the factory floor are minimized, and factory safety policies are being implemented.

There's a fair share of private attempts at tackling the issues that Bangladesh's nascent industries are facing. Kutumbita is a tech startup headquartered in Singapore that focuses on empowering workers in the garments industry through an application designed to foster communication between employer and employee in firms which are too large for traditional communication channels. Kutumbita's product is an Android app, a channel which workers can use to voice their complaints and concerns to their employers, while a check-and-balance system ensures the employers act on the issues raised by their employees. This helps the management create the means for clear and equitable communication despite the size of the workforce and address the major issues in the garments sector in Bangladesh – from labour unrest to work-related grievances. While reporting a problem, such as the common occurrence of a blocked fire exit, the workers can attach images to better identify the problem and provide photographic evidence. Kutumbita is working on allowing users to upload video and audio along with complaint reports in an upcoming version. In short, Kutumbita tackles the challenge of logging grievances from a large non-desk worker population.


Source: The Daily Star