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Fair trade entrepreneur in Bangladesh responds to COVID-19

Posted: 7 July 2020

Bangladesh, Alumni, COVID-19, Impact,

Australia Awards alumna and fair trade entrepreneur Taslima Miji is responding to the COVID-19 crisis in Bangladesh by producing low-cost and high-quality personal protective equipment (PPE).

Taslima has worked in manufacturing for almost five years, having formed her own leather goods business, Leatherina Pvt Ltd, in 2016. Leatherina produces leather bags and other small leather goods, combining jute and fabric to make the products environmentally friendly. The company also promotes a safe and fair manufacturing culture while promoting inclusivity, ethics and fair trade.

Leatherina further strengthened its commitment to responsibility and sustainability after Taslima participated in an Australia Awards Short Course on Women Trading Globally in 2019. The knowledge she gained from the course motivated her to implement fair trade principles in her business and to stay resilient in a time of crisis.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to affect Bangladesh in March 2020, Taslima noticed that although the demand for retail and fashion products decreased, the demand for PPE surged, resulting in a shortage in the market. This supply shortage led to skyrocketing prices and hoarding, putting life-saving equipment out of reach of many and leaving the lives of frontline healthcare workers at risk.

Using her social media network, Taslima, along with her friends, started a Facebook group named ‘PPE Distribution Network’ to build a bridge between PPE manufacturers/sellers and those in need.

She collected guidelines from key institutions such as the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on how to make PPE and then engaged small boutique owners to ensure that they followed the minimum standards for PPE production.

As of June 2020, the group has become an essential and credible networking platform through which PPE and other medical gear can be ordered in Bangladesh.

With a Bachelor of Sociology from Dhaka University and a background in journalism, Taslima knows a great deal about social inequality and has long dreamt of a fair and inclusive society. Leatherina’s focus on fair trade was her initial contribution towards that objective, and Taslima’s new mission to ensure everyone has equal access to affordable PPE is a natural extension of her pursuit.

“The Facebook group helps us ensure that consumers get standardised PPE at fair prices and no businesses are selling protective equipment at exorbitant prices,” Taslima says. “This initiative gives me a sense of satisfaction that I am doing something for society during these testing times.”

As lockdown restrictions began to be eased, the Government of Bangladesh required everyone to wear face masks when outdoors. This led Taslima to start a new initiative: Leatherina began producing handmade fabric face masks to be sold at a reasonable price.

Australia Awards alumna and fair trade entrepreneur Taslima Miji has started producing handmade fabric face masks, compliant with safety standards

“The appreciation that I received for my contributions has inspired me to move forward to work more closely with people who are conducting research and development to make better quality fabric masks,” she says.

“As a leather bag producer, I always try to use my product development knowledge to improve the quality of my products,” she says.

Being a fair trade entrepreneur, Taslima believes that fabric masks are more sustainable as they can be washed and re-used. Through social media, she also encouraged other artisans and fashion entrepreneurs to produce similar masks in order to increase the supply and stabilise the price of face masks in the market.

Her initiatives have received strong support from various groups, including non-government organisations, businesses and community-based organisations. She has appeared as a guest on local television talk shows, speaking about her ventures and their benefits. Her efforts have also been featured in print and social media.

“I am sharing my knowledge and techniques with fashion and retail entrepreneurs in my network so that they can produce and supply quality fabric masks at a reasonable price,” Taslima says. “As a result, there will be an abundant supply of quality masks at a reasonable price, to help curb the spread of the pandemic.”

Advice from the World Health Organization on how to wear a non-medical fabric mask safely can be found here