The world today, more than ever before, requires an extra effort to ensure a better tomorrow. The question is, who puts in this extra effort? Who is responsible for driving this change? Who should be held accountable? More often than not, we point fingers at the authorities. But it is high time that we instilled the idea in us and accepted that everyone had a role to play.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) released an Environmental Social and Governance(ESG) metrics on 22nd September 2020. Organisations are now being held accountable on these three key areas of performance. As the managing director, it gives me immense gratification in the fact that BAT Bangladesh has been driving some of these responsible ESG practices in the country for decades. This we believe is an opportunity like no other, to give back to society and the community; to become a part of the nation's development.
What started off in 1980 as an afforestation project named Bonayan to combat climate change and ensure farmers' sustainability, can now proudly claim to be the largest private sector afforestation programme in the country having distributed over 110 million saplings since its inception. But it is not just the numbers that bring me the most joy - it is the impact Bonayan has had on the lives of individuals such as Nuruzzaman who has been a beneficiary of the programme since 2000. Having struggled to find decent employment, Nuruzzaman is now the proud owner of 3 ponds being used for pisciculture, farms for rearing cows, and a mill to process rice. His tree garden alone is currently valued at Tk 10 million. That is the kind of impact Bonayan has created in the lives of beneficiaries and communities as a whole. The project has also played a key role in driving afforestation across one of the worst affected areas in Bangladesh, the Kutupalong Rohingya Camp in Ukhiya, Cox's Bazar. Through the plantation of 165,000 saplings since 2018, covering almost 22 hectares of blocks and 15.5 kilometers of roadsides, Bonayan has helped restore the environment and biodiversity in and around the camps, which were particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Similarly, I am often overwhelmed when I hear stories like that of Mahmuda Sultana from Piarpur, Daulatpur, one of the 225,000 plus beneficiaries impacted daily by Probaho, which is a safe drinking water project for communities in arsenic prone areas. Previously, Sultana would have had to walk for miles to source water for drinking and cooking for the family, but with a Probaho plant only 5 minutes away from her house, she now has more time to help her daughter with her studies, and even work as a professional seamstress, delivering all her orders on time. Initiated back in 2009, the project comprises of more than 100 water filtration plants ensuring 530,000 liters of pure drinking water to families who were in dire need of safe drinking water. Before our plants were set up, 32% of the respondents from intervention areas complained about suffering from arsenic and waterborne diseases. And now, the number has been reduced to as low as 0.3%.
Some of the most inspiring stories of ESG I've heard comes from Deepto, which was initiated to support communities across off-grid areas in Chittagong Hill Tracts and till date, has supplied 2,590 units of solar home systems across remote villages of Bandarban, Khagrachari and Rangamati districts. These are areas where the lives of 13,000 plus people would have had to wait until sunrise to start, and cease in the evening when kerosene-fueled lamps would offer the only source of light. Now, with a clean source of energy which is sustainable, people like NoumechangMarma, the wife of a farmer, can improve their lifestyle through quality education and various other income generating activities. Noumechang feels much safer and empowered as she proudly tutors students along with her son and daughter in the evening -- something that was unimaginable only a few years ago.
Along with these, are numerous other environmental initiatives in the form of good agricultural practices, carbon emission reduction measures, elimination of single use plastics and so on, which BAT Bangladesh is proudly driving. The company aims to become the national benchmark in achieving carbon neutrality by 2030, through reducing energy consumption, usage of renewable energy sources and reduction in factory waste discharge.
A strong presence of social initiatives would provide the ideal backbone for any successful business. This is where renowned enterprises focus on the key topics of human rights, people and culture, and health and safety measures. Following the 360-degree approach to ESG, BATB's initiatives range from good farm labour practices that are aimed at improving farmer livelihood, and promoting women empowerment to projects like Inspirit, a day care centre named 'Angels Nest,' and nine months maternity leave for outstation mangers, and a whole lot more. Such practices have made the company proud recipients of the prestigious awards such as the 'Top Employer in Bangladesh' and the 'Most Women Friendly Organization,' among others. It is also, the successful stories of women empowerment from our farming community where resilient individuals like Modina Khatun from Daulatpur, Kushtia fight against all odds as a single mother to raise her kids to become government officials, which inspire us every day. Focusing on the development of people, BATB has always sent its managers abroad on international assignments, but what gives me the greatest pride is the fact that we have been able to train and develop our factory workers in such a manner that they too are travelling abroad to countries such as Poland and Singapore to train people. In terms of health and safety measures, the company has also achieved the landmark record of zero accidents in factory for more than three consecutive years.
In order to establish benchmark environment and social initiatives, it is essential for any company to provide proper attention towards establishing good Governance practices. One of the key recipes for BATB's success has been the drive for excellence in terms of compliance and governance. The company has proudly set the benchmark for excellence in corporate governance which is reflected through the recognitions and awards received every year -- both nationally and internationally. Some of the notable governance awards the company is bestowed with regularly, comprises of the 'Highest Tax-payer' award, ICSB Corporate Governance Award, ICMAB Award, SAFA award for best presented Annual Report, among others.
Last but certainly not the least, comes the people within an organisation who will passionately drive these ESG initiatives forward. BATB is blessed to have employed talented individuals who not only believe in enhancing the company's reputation but through these initiatives, help achieve the all-important SDGs. It is pertinent to note the significant and sustainable impact the ESG framework tends to have on society as a whole -- livelihoods are generated, lives are transformed, and communities are empowered. Giving back to the community and society at large for any company from herein would require them to start focusing on deploying the ESG concept that caters to achieving nationally-aligned goals, in order to build A Better Tomorrow.
Shehzad Munim is the first Bangladeshi managing director of BAT Bangladesh
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