Social business finds a new route now -- this time entering the garments sector.
Grameen Bank Group is partnering with Fast Retailing Company Ltd that owns Japan's casual-clothing chain Uniqlo. Under a joint venture, a textile unit will be set up in Bangladesh in September to help the underprivileged women.
The Japanese company and Grameen Bank Group have agreed in Tokyo to launch the venture through a Fast Retailing subsidiary.
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who is promoting the social business model, said the textiles company will help poor women and solve social problems, including those related to poverty, sanitation and education, through planning, production and sale of clothing.
Fast Retailing plans to invest some $100,000 to set up the business, temporarily dubbed as Grameen Uniqlo Ltd, for producing and retailing the products in the country, a statement said.
Grameen Bank will take a 1 percent stake in the venture, according to a Reuters report.
"On the retail front, we will use the Grameen Bank Group's borrower network of eight million people to help those living in poverty to develop job skills and provide them with opportunities to sell clothes door-to-door," said Fast Retailing.
"In the first year, we plan to generate work for 250 people and to increase this figure to 1,500 within three years."
"Grameen ladies will become their own business owners by selling the clothing products in visits to neighbours' houses," news agency AFP quoted Tadashi Yanai, chairman and president of Fast Retailing, as saying.
Yunus is backed by corporations such as food giant Danone, global water group Veolia, sportswear company Adidas and software company SAP.
Fast Retailing will be the first Asian corporation to start a social business with Grameen Bank Group, Yunus said.
"Uniqlo is a global company, a big company, and a company that is now creating a social business in Bangladesh," he said at a Tokyo press conference, adding that the world needs a new economic "architecture" to fight poverty.
Uniqlo opened its liaison office in Dhaka in September last year although it had previously outsourced RMG products through an agent.
It has a network of over 760 stores in Japan. The company opened stores outside Japan in September 2001 starting in London. It expanded international network across six countries -- the UK, China, Hong Kong, the US, South Korea, France.
Meanwhile, garment exports to the new destination of Japan maintained a high growth rate in the July-April period of fiscal 2009-10 riding on the back of high demand for Bangladeshi apparel items there.
According to data from state-owned Export Promotion Bureau, Bangladesh exported knitwear items worth $60.02 million in the first 10 months of the immediate past fiscal year, which was $18.15 million in the same period of fiscal 2008-09.
In the July-April period of fiscal 2009-10, knitwear exports to Japan grew by 230.65 percent. Bangladesh logged $89.87 million in earnings from woven garment exports, registering a robust 121.46 percent growth over the same period a year ago.
Data showed that RMG exports to Japan were worth $74.38 million in fiscal 2008-09, compared to $28.04 million in fiscal 2007-08.