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Dead rivers: The cost of Bangladesh’s garment-driven economic boom

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Industrial waste enters the Buriganga River as boatmen wait for passengers in Karanigonj
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Bangladeshi ferryman Kalu Molla began working on the Buriganga river before the patchwork of slums on its banks gave way to garment factories — and before its waters turned pitch black.

The 52-year-old has constant cough, allergies and skin rashes, and doctors have told him the vile-smelling sludge that has also wiped out marine life in one of Dhaka’s main waterways is to blame.

“Doctors told me to leave this job and leave the river. But how is that possible?” Molla told AFP near his home on the industrial outskirts of the capital Dhaka. “Ferrying people is my bread and butter.”

In the half-century since a devastating independence war left its people facing starvation, Bangladesh has emerged as an often unheralded economic success story.

The South Asian country of 169 million has overtaken its neighbour India in per capita income and will soon graduate from the United Nations’ list of the world’s least developed countries.

Underpinning years of runaway growth is the booming garment trade, servicing global fast-fashion powerhouses, employing millions of women and accounting for around 80 percent of the country’s $50 billion annual exports.

But environmentalists say the growth has come at an incalculable cost, with a toxic melange of dyes, tanning acids and other dangerous chemicals making their way into the water.

Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka was founded on the banks of the Buriganga more than 400 years ago by the Mughal empire.

“It is now the largest sewer of the country,” said Sheikh Rokon, the head of the Riverine People environmental rights group.

“For centuries people built their homes on its banks to bask in the river breeze,” he added. “Now the smell of toxic sludge during winter is so horrible that people have to hold their noses as they come near it.”

Water samples from the river found chromium and cadmium levels over six times the World Health Organization’s recommended maximums, according to a 2020 paper by the Bangladeshi government’s River Research Institute. 

Both elements are used in leather tanning and excessive exposure to either is extremely hazardous to human health: chromium is carcinogenic, and chronic cadmium exposure causes lung damage, kidney disease and premature births. 

Ammonia, phenol and other byproducts of fabric dyeing have also helped to starve the river of the oxygen needed to sustain marine life. 

– ‘They are powerful people’ –

In Shyampur, one of several sprawling industrial districts around Dhaka, locals told AFP that at least 300 local factories were discharging untreated wastewater into the Buriganga river.

Residents say they have given up complaining about the putrid smell of the water, knowing that offending businesses are easily able to shirk responsibility.

“The factories bribe (authorities) to buy the silence of the regulators,” said Chan Mia, who lives in the area. 

“If someone wants (to) raise the issue to the factories, they’d beat them up. They are powerful people with connections.” 

The crucial position of the textile trade in the economy has created a nexus between business owners and the country’s political establishment. In some cases, politicians themselves have become powerful industry players. 

Further south, in Narayanganj district, residents showed AFP a stream of crimson-coloured water draining into stagnant canals from a nearby factory. 

“But you cannot say a word about it loudly,” an area resident told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “We only suffer in silence.”

The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA), which represents the interests of around 3,500 top factories, defends its record by pointing out the environmental certifications given out to its members.

“We are going green — that’s why we are witnessing big jumps in export orders,” BGMEA president Faruque Hassan told a recent press conference.

But smaller factories and sub-contractors operating on the industry’s razor thin margins say they are unable to afford the cost of wastewater treatment.

A top garment official in the Savar industrial district, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said even most high-end factories serving major US and European brands often do not turn on their treatment machinery. 

“Not everyone regularly uses it. They want to save costs,” he said.

– ‘Facing the same fate’ –

Bangladesh is a delta country criss-crossed by more than 200 waterways, each of them connected to the mighty Ganges and Brahmatura rivers that course from the Himalayas and through the South Asian subcontinent.

More than a quarter of them are now heavily contaminated with industrial pollutants and need to be “urgently” saved, said an April legal notice sent to the government by the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA). 

Authorities have established a commission tasked with saving key water bodies, upon which close to half the country’s population depend for farming, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. 

The National River Commission has launched several high profile drives to fine factories found to have polluted rivers.

Its newly appointed chief, Manjur Chowdhury, said “greedy” industrialists were to blame for the state of the country’s waterways.

But he also admitted that the enforcement of existing penalties was inadequate to address the scale of the problem.

“We have to frame new laws to face this emergency situation. But it will take time,” he told AFP.

Any action will be too late for the five rivers that circle Dhaka and its industrial outskirts.

All are already technically dead, meaning they are completely devoid of marine life, said prominent environmental activist Sharif Jamil. 

“With factories now moving deep into the rural heartland, rivers across the country are facing the same fate,” he told AFP.

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6 ways to strengthen your retirement savings this year

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Stacker analyzed best practices from reputable news and financial institutions for tips to strengthen your retirement portfolio for the new year.
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Coming out of one of the most volatile years on record for the stock market, investors are looking for ways to take back some control over their investments—especially the savings they’re putting away for retirement.

Stacker analyzed common retirement savings best practices from sources including the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. and the Securities and Exchange Commission, along with reports from reputable news and financial institutions, so that you don’t have to.

Think of these suggestions as a kind of spring cleaning for your finances. Much like other important things in life, your savings need occasional maintenance to ensure they’re working as hard as possible to fund the future you hope for after retirement.

A notepad with a monthly budget list.

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Assess and update your net worth and budget

It’s commonly said that acting on emotions is a terrible way to make important financial decisions, and that recommendation extends to if you feel you’ve stockpiled enough savings. Instead of going on how secure you feel, sit down and go over all the numbers to give an accurate calculation of your net worth.

Calculating your net worth isn’t just about looking at the bottom line on your financial statements. A true net worth calculation means totaling all your assets (including, crucially, your home) and subtracting liabilities such as student loans, credit card debt, and mortgages.

By doing the work to figure out this number, as well as updating it from time to time, you will have a much clearer picture of where you currently stand financially. That number can also color how you set your retirement goals, as well as how you plan to achieve them.

Seeing a concrete figure for your net worth also helps to inform what a responsible day-to-day budget should look like. If you’re falling behind on your goals, it’d be wise to adjust how you spend your income.

Two people sitting next to each other surrounded by bills and invoices.

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Prioritize paying down debt

Another benefit to calculating your net worth is that you gain a clear sense of how much debt you’re carrying. Socking away $1 million in the bank sounds nice, but that seven-figure bank balance is nothing more than a mirage if you owe $2 million on credit cards. It can be difficult to plan strategically for retirement if you are carrying too much debt—facing a mountain of bills can also tempt you to dip into retirement savings and delay building your nest egg.

One strategy popularized by financial adviser Dave Ramsey is the “debt snowball” method. With this method, you continue to pay the minimum required balance on all your debts, but any cash you can set aside is applied to the debt with the lowest balance. Once that debt is paid, you apply all the money spent on the cleared debt to the next-lowest amount.

Simply paying down debt can go a long way toward improving your financial situation, but not all debt is the same. Estimates vary, but an August 2022 report from McKinsey says the average yearly return from U.S. stock market investments from 1800 to today is 6.5% to 7%. That suggests it may be better to focus a debt snowball on loans with interest rates above 7%.

Various streaming services as seen on the display of an iPhone SE.

picture alliance // Getty Images

Cut unnecessary subscription expenses

Many tech products aim to provide a “seamless” experience, meaning they aim to make it as easy as possible to sign up for a service or purchase a product. Streaming services have made it exceptionally easy to click a couple of buttons and sign up for a new service so you can binge-watch whatever you’re fascinated by next.

But a few months later, it’s equally easy to forget you agreed to ongoing payments in exchange for seeing just one season of some now-forgotten series. Many subscription service fees seem like small monthly amounts, but when bundled together, they could be taking a serious bite out of your income.

One writer found that by canceling all the services she didn’t use on a weekly basis, she lowered her monthly expenses by over $450. If she put all that money into a stock market index fund and never touched it again, she could end up with over $41,000 for retirement in 30 years.

A person putting a $100 bill into a piggy bank.

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Top up your emergency fund

Some important details of your financial life do not necessarily appear in your net worth calculation, like liquidity.

You might be worth $300,000, but if all that money is tied up in the value of your home, you’ll be hard-pressed to find the cash if an expensive, urgent situation comes your way. The money’s not in your bank account, and getting access to it—like through a home equity line of credit—comes with its own costs and time delays.

Financial advisers suggest you keep an emergency cash fund available for unexpected expenses. The traditional advice is to have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in that account. So if your expenses have gone up, or you’re at the lower end of that range, consider increasing your contributions to your rainy day stash. Having this financial cushion will help prepare you for unforeseen crises so you don’t have to turn to retirement savings for emergency cash.

The investment portfolio for a person's 401k.

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Max out or increase your 401(k) contribution

A well-known benefit of a 401(k) program is that the money contributed from your paycheck isn’t taxed as income until you withdraw it after age 59 ½.

So, if you get paid $40,000 yearly after taxes and contribute $5,000 of that for your 401(k), you’re only on the hook to pay taxes on the remaining $35,000 this year. The plans also let investors contribute toward their retirements automatically via direct deduction from their paychecks. That way, the money is squirreled away before it hits your bank account, so you won’t have to think about it—or be tempted to spend it.

Perhaps the biggest bonus to 401(k) plans is that some full-time employers offer matches to employee contributions, at least up to a certain level. But nearly a quarter of all employees eligible for that free money from their employer don’t set aside enough money to maximize the employer contribution.

In December 2022, President Biden signed an appropriations bill into law that includes a set of provisions—known as SECURE 2.0—that will impact retirement savings plans. One of the provisions requires employers to automatically enroll workers into new company retirement plans at no lower than a 3% rate starting in 2025.

Take some time this year to review how your plan is set up. If you’re expecting a raise, consider applying most or all of it toward your retirement savings. You may not even notice a missing increase in your regular paycheck, and you’ll be setting yourself up for a more relaxing retirement.

Two hands operating a calculator and taking notes in a notebook.

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Resolve to advance an existing savings goal or start a new one

Saving for retirement, like many personal goals, is not a competition against anyone else. But, like other goals, sometimes you need to stretch your horizons to continue to grow. It’s possible that your needs in retirement may be considerably less than you initially planned, especially if you’ve downsized your home or have adjusted your aspirations to be a bit more frugal.

In other cases, many experience “lifestyle creep”—an endless cycle of buying things you don’t need, usually for more than you need to pay, just to keep up appearances. People often find that if they’ve steadily upgraded their lifestyle habits over the years, they’ll need even more money in retirement than they initially planned. If you realize your expenses in retirement might be higher, consider an increase in how much you set aside from each check toward retirement goals. Keeping your future needs in mind can lead to financially wise decisions today.

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How the pandemic e-commerce surge spiked demand for truckers

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Truckinfo.net analyzed how retailers and truckers have adjusted to the evolving needs of consumers as e-commerce dominates the market.  
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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, truckers have faced a series of circulating problems, including driver shortages and difficult working conditions. But the sharp increase in e-commerce in 2020 put a strain like no other on the industry.

In just one year, e-commerce—the buying and selling of products over the internet—surged 43%, the Census Bureau reports, growing from $571.2 billion in 2019 to $815.4 billion in 2020. That surge brought new pressure to the truck driving industry, adding to an already challenging driver shortage.

Truckinfo.net analyzed trends in e-commerce over the past few years and looked at how the spike in online shopping and business has affected the truck driver industry—and how retailers and drivers have adjusted.

Heading into 2023, challenges in the industry likely won’t ease, according to a forecast from Bloomberg Intelligence. Flatbed trucks, for example, are employed heavily for building material transportation, but the housing market has seen a sharp downturn as the Fed raises interest rates. And trucking companies will continue to suffer from supply chain troubles that limit their ability to add tractors to their fleets.

The truck driver shortage will also likely continue to bedevil the industry. The American Trucking Associations in October estimated the 2022 shortage at nearly 78,000 drivers, just shy of the historical record high of more than 81,000 in 2021. The association predicts that number could grow to 160,000 by 2031 if current trends continue.

Read on to learn more about several ways the trucking industry is facing some of its biggest challenges.

Delivery van loaded with cardboard boxes outside of logistics warehouse with open door.

Gorodenkoff // Shutterstock

How e-commerce changed the industry

With many sequestered to their homes during the pandemic, online shopping spiked, with consumers taking advantage of the convenience of items straight to their front doors.

The change created a surge in the need for short-haul truckers, and thus a shortage of long-haul truckers. More time at home and other factors make short-haul routes more attractive, according to a report from the Transportation Department. Long-haul truckers generally drive at least 250 miles for their services, while short-haul drivers often operate within a 150-mile radius, according to hiring site Indeed.

Bob Costello, the chief economist at the American Trucking Associations, told NBC News earlier this year that the average drive for a long-haul trip decreased from 800 to 500 miles in the past 20 years. Part of that change is because retailers that once only built distribution in three to five locations now have warehouses across the country, he said.

Stacked package boxes on pallet inside a truck.

Siwakorn1933 // Shutterstock

What a driver shortage really means

While many adapted to working remotely, truckers maintain an essential role in supplying our most basic needs. Without them, we’d have empty grocery stores, gas shortages, ATMs with no cash available, and medical supply shortages. Chemical shipments to water plants would cease, halting access to potable water, and garbage would litter the streets.

The growth of e-commerce has made the prospect of warehouse positions and short-haul loads with high pay appealing to many truckers, leaving huge gaps to fill in long-haul trucking positions. These short-haul roles are competitive and draw experienced drivers who prioritize higher salaries and the opportunity to do shorter trips to increase time spent at home.

Truckers move about 72% of U.S. freight by weight, according to the American Trucking Associations.

Truck driver in casual clothes driving truck.

Aleksandar Malivuk // Shutterstock

Competition between carrier companies

Large companies are taking full advantage of their budgets to increase pay and incentivize workers by offering sign-on bonuses and higher pay for shorter hauls.

With 1.9 million trucking carriers in the United States alone, the competition has become incredibly steep. The disparity is obvious: With 97.4% of carriers operating fewer than 20 trucks, corporate giants have saturated and overtaken the trucking market with large paychecks and fleets, Zippia.com reports.

Walmart increased competition earlier this year by rolling out increased salaries for their private fleet, with first-year drivers earning up to $110,000, over double the average pay for long-haul drivers, NBC News reports. Walmart employs 12,000 drivers in its fleet, making it the largest private trucking company in the U.S.

Silhouette of a large truck driving on a road at sunrise.

Janice Storch // Shutterstock

The rising costs of employing drivers

Turnover rates in the trucking industry are near record highs, as workers move between carriers, incentivized by higher pay and better hours.

These turnover rates do not necessarily indicate truckers leaving the field; rather, experienced and new truckers alike are taking advantage of the pay raises offered by private fleets, the American Trucking Associations says. These pay raises offer more accessible jobs to workers who have not received a college degree, paving a stable road to a middle-class lifestyle without the cost of a four-year educational program.

The president of the Women in Trucking Association, Ellen Voie, told NBC News that this is a positive for the industry, saying drivers are entitled to better benefits and flexibility due to the difficult nature of their work. Workers joining private fleets are able to enjoy work closer to home and can even acquire stock options at certain companies.

It’s no wonder that workers are taking the cost of their livelihood so seriously; dangerous conditions increased for drivers as they were forced to work long hours in often unsanitary conditions during the national COVID-19 emergency, with 7 out of 10 drivers reporting lower pay and dangerous working conditions in an April 2020 survey conducted by a coalition of national labor unions, Change to Win, the Los Angeles Times reports. These working conditions were combated with trucker strikes, posing a serious threat of disruption to the average civilian’s way of life.

Truck driver behind the wheel wearing a hard hat and safety vest.

DuxX // Shutterstock

Proposed strategies to resolve trucking industry issues in 2023

Lawmakers, employers, and the United States government have flocked to ease the stressors of the essential trucking industry. An October 2022 report by the American Transit Research Institute proposed strategies to combat critical issues. The top strategies involve recruiting younger drivers into the workforce. 

According to the Census Bureau, 30.3% of the trucking industry is composed of workers over the age of 55. Research done by the American Transit Research Institute found that 84% of Gen Z and millennial drivers are incentivized by company culture when it comes to working and staying with a motor carrier. 

In November 2021, the Drive Safe Act was signed into law, which included a national pilot test program allowing 3,000 18- to 20-year-olds to be trained in operating freight commerce across state lines. Due to high insurance costs for young drivers, not all fleets will be able to participate in the Safe Driver Apprenticeship Program.

Several moves by the Biden administration will also target an increase in driver hiring and retention, including a focus on veterans.

This story originally appeared on Truckinfo.net and was produced and
distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.

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WEF 2023: A call for more cooperation from businesses, governments, and society through digital transformation

A short roundup of digital transformation topics discussed at this year’s annual World Economic Forum.

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The World Economic Forum (WEF) is an annual event in Davos, Switzerland. Business, tech, government, and climate leaders speak and connect on strategies to improve the state of the world, specifically its industries, people, and environment.

Technology and digital transformation took center stage as leaders discussed exciting predictions for the new year. 

Curious about this year’s happenings? 

We’ve rounded up all the WEF topics where digital transformation was described as a top priority. 

Small businesses 

The pandemic made its mark on small businesses, but post-pandemic spending and inflation are proving just as destructive. The WEF concurs that a global recovery is only possible with small business recovery

The answer? Digitalization through:

  • Online payments: The e-commerce market is booming, estimated to jump over $2.1 trillion from 2022 to 2026. 
  • Global customer appeal: Digital financial platforms like Alipay+ help businesses access wider customer bases — a must after the latest local spending limitations from inflation. 

Luckily, 70% of businesses see the trend, leaning toward a higher-revenue (8X) future through digital transformation.

Manufacturing 

Manufacturing plants are faced with a double-edged sword in the face of exponentially innovative technology. They need to embrace it without sacrificing their workers or local investment. 

Adapting effectively means balancing the cost savings and scaling of macro supply chains with more local investment and empowering their workforces with new skills.

But the digital transformation necessary to balance all three comes from collaboration with:

  • Supply chain partners 
  • Competitors and industry players 
  • Government stakeholders 

The WEF also developed a tool to help manufacturing players monitor and apply supply chain disruptions from climate issues, new technology, and geopolitical tensions.

Technology investment to combat economic downturn 

Economic hardships drive companies to limit expenditures. A prominent WEF topic this year was digital transformation as a way to survive and soar over challenging business times.

How? 

For starters, SaaS and its automation, as well as ultra connectivity with wifi and 5G, limit redundancy and heighten collaboration and productivity. The trickle effect is a smoother customer experience and more revenue. 

It’s estimated that 60% of the GDP relied on digital technologies in 2022.

A strong sentiment surrounding this was a call for more public-private collaboration to make these technologies accessible to businesses and drive the economy, as well as government investment in connectivity infrastructure. 

Digital transformation and ESG

Businesses should strive to drive value in more than just economic matters. Just as information and data solutions have been prioritized, so have their ESG contributions. In the digital space, a large part of ESG is making the technology that so many businesses benefit from, accessible and equitable. That covers the S in ESG — as for the environmental pillar, IT capabilities are adapting tout suite. 

For example, edge computing supports animal observation and preservation in terms of data collection. 

The governance that brings everything together is becoming expected in new IT investments. Another ESG example here is Lenovo’s environmental assessments of their supply chains, including reducing their plants’ carbon footprint.

Emerging economies

Technology is slower to blossom in emerging economies, but global leaders concur on a need to invest in digitalization in developing countries. This launched the Digital FDI (foreign direct investment) to create “digital-friendly investment climates” — starting in Rwanda and Pakistan. 

At a most basic level, this includes investments to bring internet connectivity to poorer countries, a luxury that only 53% of the world has. The initiative will fund technology startups and innovators in Pakistan and Rwanda, propelled by investment and, arguably most importantly, public-private cooperation. 
Learn more about 2023 digital transformation trends.

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