Sheikh Mahabub Alam
Shehrin Salam Oishee, the youngest director of BGMEA speaks with TBS about her background and future plans
When I first spoke with Shehrin Salam Oishee, she seemed a bit occupied. I guess being one of the youngest directors at the BGMEA and handling the responsibilities that come with the title must have taken a toll on her. Well, I was wrong.
She actually had a lot more important duties than just being the director of the BGMEA. She is a young entrepreneur, a barrister with a remarkable profile, a teacher, and most importantly, a mother to a toddler who needs constant (!) attention.
So, I wanted to know how she managed to take care of so many responsibilities.
“My mother said a woman always has to consider herself as a superwoman if she wants to succeed in every aspect of her life. I was never taught to give less effort as a mother and more effort to my professional life. Supportive parents and husband can also make a great impact, and I’m lucky to have both.”
Shehreen Salam Oishee is a second generation business woman in the RMG industry. She is the only daughter of Mr Abdus Salam Murshedy MP, former President of BGMEA, MD of Envoy Group and one of the pioneers of the RMG industry since the early 80s.
“In the mid-80s, my father, a national team footballer, stepped into RMG business with his partner Kutub uncle. And so began the saga of Envoy Group. And now, Envoy Group is one of our country’s most prominent conglomerates exploring sectors like Textile, Washing, hospitality, Securities and so on.”
Shehrin was privileged enough to get first-hand experience from one of the pioneers of this industry, i.e., her father. She grew up learning various aspects of this business and applying that in her professional life efficiently.
Other than that Shehrin has an excellent educational history. She has received several degrees like LLB from University of London, BPTC from City Law school following her Bar-at-Law at Lincoln’s Inn, LLM in Commercial Law from University of Derby, and also has done MSC in Criminology and Criminal Justice from University of Dhaka. As she said, to run this business, it requires a blend of legal and business knowledge.
“Even though I have spent a fair amount of time abroad, I always wanted to carry on my father’s legacy. Moreover, my education from England was definitely a plus point for me. In my opinion, if a person coming from abroad can adjust with the social structure of Bangladesh and then can apply the knowledge she has gained, it will surely have a positive impact on any kind of business. Also, I believe studying abroad has helped me to keep pace with the ever-changing world and learn how to be more adaptive to changes.”
Shehrin’s interest in the RMG industry grew spontaneously as she experienced her father relentlessly working to develop his business and flourish the sector.
“Bangladesh was a war-torn country at the time, and this emerging sector was one of the country’s economic turning points. One of the reasons for my adoration towards this area was how it played a role as our saviour. From Tazreen Fashion to the Rana Plaza tragedy, we have always managed to get back on our feet, and have proudly made Bangladesh the world’s second largest RMG exporter.” she added.
But since the current employees are accustomed to working with the previous generation, how are they faring in the new situation?
“So far, when I and my brother made any decision proactively, I haven’t seen the management or workers negate us. They were very warm. Yes, there will be people who feel there is a hierarchy in rank, but over time with our good intentions and leadership quality, I think we can win them back. When they will realise that we hold the same value as our predecessors I think they will understand and won’t show resistance to attain our shared goals.”
Speaking of shared goals, I wanted to learn about the future vision of the BGMEA directors from Shehrin. Apparently, they are currently divided into two roles. The first is to tackle the post Covid-19 challenges.
Since it’s impossible to predict whether the unfavourable conditions will improve, there’s a good chance that orders will again get cancelled like previous year. Millions of dollars in exports would be lost as a result. Now they are collectively thinking of finding an alternative to avoid losses this year.
Secondly, as a BGMEA director Shehrin wants to work with branding. It is one of her mission statements to make more people aware of the label ‘Made in Bangladesh, with Pride’.
Another worrying sign for the RMG sector is the 4th industrial revolution and the rise of automation. Many fear that the RMG workers may lose their jobs. However, Shehrin seemed to argue otherwise. She believes that it is unlikely for RMG workers to lose their jobs to automation since the industry heavily depends on skilled workers.
Asked about the working conditions, implementation of maternity law, fire safety laws etc. in the RMG sector, Shehrin argued that a maternity leave for four months already exists in the RMG sector and this maternity law is applicable for any woman in the hierarchy. About the fire safety laws, she said that fire safety compliance is assessed in every factory on a regular basis. The intervention of Accord and Alliance in this sector has further strengthened the fire and other safety requirements in majorly all factories, she added.
Regarding the allegation that Bangladeshi RMG workers are extremely under-paid, Shehrin disagreed and said that this perception is not quite right.
“Our workers are our strength and we never intend to exploit them. People need to know that even the newest worker is being paid here to be taught and trained. The misconception exists because people are not explained enough,” she said.
She added that RMG owners have invested a great amount of time to build a compatible workforce which eventually helped to reduce unemployment.
She also talked about challenges regarding negotiating with a buyer.
“I’ve seen buyers rejecting products just by observing a small defect and it’s just one of the many problems. Times have changed but the practice remains. Having a practicing lawyer in our board may allow a more plausible stand for negotiation and added focus on pricing strategy, proper staff management and maintaining a healthy relationship with buyers.”
With Bangladesh gradually moving towards developing a solid manufacturing base, I wanted to know whether the RMG business was still a better option than launching other business ventures in Bangladesh. She argued that it was still safe to bet on RMG.
“Many more industries have sprung up around the readymade garments industry. For instance, the packaging industry. But the RMG serves as a key foundation in building our reputation in front of the world. The world knows us, greatly, for the RMG industry.”
Shehrin believes that there is a lot of scope for improvement in the RMG industry. She wants to tap every opportunity to bring out something fruitful.
Shehrin is an epitome of a strong independent woman. For that, it is her duty to ensure that women in the RMG industry on her watch don’t get discriminated against by any means.
“When I see a big chunk of women in colourful outfits working together in our factory every morning, I always get fascinated and feel empowered by the scene. It’s a ray of hope for better gender balance. Our female garment workers have proven their worth with their abilities and this is the only way to keep the gender balance. I mean as a woman we need to stop thinking that we are less than any man. I believe in some way we deserve more than equality for our hard work. A woman needs to make her own place by her own dint and we will definitely create scopes to help them comprehend their worth.”