The retail sector of Bangladesh has already employed over six million (60 lakh) people. The sector has much growth potentials and will create employment opportunities for many more youths particularly women from the disadvantaged sections of the society in the coming years. Speakers came up with the observation while addressing a roundtable discussion on “Enhancing employment: Opportunities for youth in Bangladesh’s retail sector” organised in Dhaka today on Thursday.
The event, organised by BRAC’s Skills Development Programme (SDP) at the BRAC Centre this morning, aims to foster discussions with the private sector on youth employment in retail sales and skills training required for the jobs and advocate women and persons with disabilities inclusion in the retail industry.
Nihad Kabir, president, Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) was present as the chief guest at the event. Speakers at the roundtable, among others, were Tamara Abed, managing director of Aarong, BRAC, Syed Nasim Manzur, MD of Apex Footwear Ltd, Murtoza Zaman, chief executive officer of Unimart, Tanvir Sohel Khan, business director of Shwapno, Shaheen Khan, chief executive officer of Gemcon Food and Agricultural Products Ltd, Nure Alam Shimu, Managing Director of Gadget and Gear, M.M. Ferdous, Executive Director of Best Electronics, Mosaraf Hossain, Chief Operating Officer of Mirror Outfitters, Rubaiyath Sarwar, Managing Director of Innovision Consulting Ltd, Aziza Ahmed, head of operations of Bangladesh Business and Disability Network, Masudul Haq, MD of Amanah Group, Maria Huq, director of BRAC, Tasmiah Tabassum Rahman, Current in-charge, BRAC Skills Development Programme, and Joydeep Sinha Roy, Head of Operations, BRAC Skills Development Programme.
Considering the prospect of job creation in this sector, BRAC’s SDP is implementing a project titled “Progressing the retail sector by improving decent employment (PRIDE)”. The project aims to create a model for scale, providing sustainable livelihoods for low-income urban youths in Bangladesh in partnership with the retail sector and the Government of Bangladesh.
The retail sales project, funded by IKEA Foundation and UBS Optimus Foundation, aims to impact changes in the retail sector by providing decent work opportunities for disadvantaged urban youth, particularly women and persons with disabilities. It also supports industry standardisation in major cities like Dhaka, Khulna, Chattogram and Sylhet.
MCCI president Nihad Kabir in his chief guest’s speech said, “Women essentially need training to enter jobs in the retail sector. But at the moment training facilities for the aspirants are very limited. The government should focus on establishing these facilities.”
MD of Aarong Tamara Abed said, “It lies with us the employers to create decent work environment for both men and women at the workplace. There should be a continuous effort to make workplace environment more comfortable and healthy. There should also be sexual harassment prevention policies at place. Businesses should have separate washrooms and shift-based work schedule not only for women staff, but for the persons with disabilities also.”
Apex Footwear MD Syed Nasim Manzur observed, “It’s not only sufficient to organise training and employment in the retail sector, but quality improvement of the sector is also imperative. The government needs to play a decisive role in formulating necessary laws and giving recognition.”
Gemcon Food CEO Shaheen Khan said, “It’s a highly conventional idea that women cannot work as hard men. The women retailers in Bangladesh have proved their ability. We want more women in retailing. We have policy of inclusion in our business.”
Though the retail industry contributes significantly to Bangladesh’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), opportunities for formal training hardly exists in the country for those looking for jobs in this sector. A baseline survey conducted in 2020 showed that a very low percentage of retailers provide formal training for their employees.
BRAC SDP, in collaboration with Bangladesh Technical Education Board has developed the country’s first accredited retail sales training module. Following this module SDP is currently providing training to those participating in its own training courses. Since the training began 54% of its participants are currently employed despite having no prior experience and the Covid-19 situation.
The retail industry in Bangladesh is male dominated with only 8% females. Retailers are reluctant to hire female staff citing safety issues and due to a pervasive perception that women cannot take physical strain. In the baseline survey, more than 50% of the respondent persons with disabilities stated they were not provided with specialised orientation although they had no previous work experience.
Retailers who did not hire persons with disabilities stated a number of reasons, the major ones among them are - the nature of business was not suitable, lack of accommodation at the workplace, and no applications received from aspirant persons with disabilities.