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SDU professors Peter Hasle and Jan Vang receives millions in grants from Danida Fellowship Centre

The newly established unit of Global Sustainable Production at SDU has gotten of to a great start. The two professors, Peter Hasle and Jan Vang, have both received grants of 5 million DDK (approx. $750,000 USD) for research projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar respectively. Both projects are strongly related to SDU’s focus on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

By Sune Holst, , 1/3/2020

Professor Peter Hasle and Head of Unit for Global Sustainable Production, Professor Jan Vang, have received grants from Danida Fellowship Centre (DFC). The grants are 4,999,886 DKK and 4,999,497 DKK respectively.

- As a new unit at SDU that focuses on sustainable production, it is of course a major help that allows us to continue to develop this area of research where we have already established ourselves as a central part of the European research arena, professor Jan Vang says.

Both professors have focused their research on how to create sustainable global production systems. They are especially interested in finding out how techniques from the field of engineering, such as lean, can be used to improve efficiency in a way that benefits employees. To put it simply, productivity and working environment must go hand in hand.

The two professors Peter Hasle and Jan Vang are now able to do research in this area on the other side of the world, where the many millions enable them to launch research projects in Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Avoiding a new Bangladesh disaster

- The explosive growth in countries like Bangladesh and Myanmar is followed by safety and health risks for the workers, which the collapse of Rana Plaza (see the text box) is a tragic example of. But our focus is not the safety of buildings, but rather to improve the general working environment what consists of e.g. child labour, handling of dangerous chemicals and physical strain, professor Peter Hasle says.

Our research shows that a good working environment increases productivity. The pay is only a small factor in the company’s profits.

Peter Hasle

Safe working environment = economic growth

The unsafe working environment is not only a problem for the workers, it also slows down economic growth, because a high-risk working environment hampers productivity. Disasters like the one in Bangladesh can also harm the country’s reputation and stop Western companies from investing and cooperating with suppliers where the working environment does not live up to Western standards.

- That it why it is so important that Bangladesh, Myanmar and similar countries invest in developing safe and healthy workplaces, Peter Hasle says.

Better working environment does not decrease profits

If the conditions of work and pay are improved for seamstresses in Bangladesh, the logic conclusion is that it will increase the price of clothes in the fashion industry. But that is not the case – quite the contrary actually.

- Our research shows that a good working environment increases productivity. The pay is only a small factor in the company’s profits. It has far more impact if the productivity is high and the company is able to navigate the fast changes in fashion, Peter Hasle says.

Beneficial to Danish companies

In addition to the obvious benefits for the workers in Bangladesh and Myanmar, the research of the two professors also benefits Danish companies:

- We help ensure that the suppliers are actually living up to the standards from the Danish companies. And even the suppliers’ suppliers, which has previously been an underprioritised area and a bit of a jungle to navigate in, professor Jan Vang says.

Inspectors in the workplace

After the Rana Plaza disaster, there has been a global focus on regulating the fashion industry and implement initiatives to improve the working environment. One of these initiatives is auditors who visit the companies. Especially the research project in Bangladesh will focus on these auditors:

- We will, among other things, be looking at how to improve these auditors and if these initiatives are even the right ones. And then we will look into whether the companies are actually living up to the standards and not just showing the auditors a false façade.

Living up to the UN SDG’s

The two projects are in line with the UN SDG 8, which is about inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

To understand the full perspective of their research, we are turning back time to April 24, 2013. We are at the nine-story building Rana Plaza, 25 kilometers outside Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. At 8.45, the clothes factory is buzzing with life. The pistons of the sewing machines were thumping monotonously and the steam from the flat irons was mixing with the hot morning air. No one thought of the crack in the building that had been discovered the day before. Neither did the seamstress Laxmi Sarkar. But when Laxmi Sarkar suddenly felt the floor moving underneath her feet, the crack was the first thing to enter her mind.

Laxmi Sarkar jumped up, and as she leapt down the stairs, she heard a roaring sound behind her. As she turned to look over her shoulder, she was buried in beams and concrete. Like thousands of others, she was trapped in the collapsed building. Laxmi Sarkar was one of the lucky ones. She was one of 800 people to be rescued from the rubble a few hours later. Others were not so lucky. The total death toll was 1127 people, which makes the collapse the deadliest in history that was not caused by terrorism.

Editing was completed: 03.01.2020