Reading Time: 3 minutes
According to a recent study, 82% of garment workers said their income fell since the pandemic hit. Nearly 52% said they are saving less than what they were saving before the pandemic, while 77% said it was difficult to feed everyone in their households.
“The global supply chain is detrimental to workers’ rights”, remarked Dr Sanchita Banerjee Saxena while presenting findings of a new study on Bangladeshi garment workers in a webinar “Covid-19 experience: Workers’ perspective” on 30 September 2020. The webinar was organised by Mapped in Bangladesh (MiB) project of Centre for Entrepreneurship Development (CED), BRAC University. The project has also recently developed a digital map of the export-oriented ready-made garment factories in Bangladesh to encourage transparency and accountability in the sector.
Dr Saxena, the executive director of the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, presented the findings of the research survey which she conducted jointly with Dr Atonu Rabbani, associate scientist of BRAC James P Grant School of Public Health and Md Faizul Islam, research and M&E associate, CED of BRAC University.
The data of the study titled “The Impact of Covid-19 on the lives of workers in the Bangladesh garment industry” was collected from a total of 1,038 garment workers over phone calls from June 30 to July 13, 2020.
Among the 906 workers who were still employed in February 2020, 140 reported that their current employers were laying off workers since March 2020 after the pandemic broke out in Bangladesh. A total of 70% of the workers said they were very worried or somewhat worried about workers in their factories who had lost or might lose their jobs. Approximately 92% said they had to cut back expenses to afford essential items.
The presentation also reflected workers’ perception of risks due to COVID-19, and precautionary measures that factories had taken to stop the spread of the virus among workers. Approximately, 87% of the respondents said their factory has introduced precautions including distributing protective equipment (91%), encouraging more hygiene measures (77%), sending wor/kers with symptoms home (66%), and encouraging physical distancing between workers (75%). However, 59% felt that they were likely to get infected by the virus in their factory, whereas 29% thought they could get infected in their homes. About 90% of the workers said they did not receive any support from the government during the pandemic. When asked about preferred forms of support from the government, they mentioned cash support (70%), quality healthcare facilities (58%), job security (53%), and food support (45%).
Begum Monnujan Sufian, chief guest of the webinar and state minister at the Ministry of Labour and Employment, appreciated the research collaboration and spoke on the initiatives that the government has taken – including stimulus packages, formation of crisis committees, telemedicine service for workers, and health and safety guide in cooperation with ILO.
The special guests of the webinar were Professor Dr Wahiduddin Mahmud, economist and former advisor of the caretaker government of Bangladesh and Dr Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Dr Mahmud said that the garment sector of Bangladesh is born to export, thus the way the shocks of the pandemic are being absorbed by our industry would be different from other parts of the world. Dr Rubana Huq said due to the cancellations of orders of many brands, Bangladesh has been facing huge adversities. These brands have to be held responsible for this. Ms Taslima Akhter, coordinator of Bangladesh Garment Workers Solidarity, stated that workers have become one of the most vulnerable groups as a result of the pandemic. They continue to live in fear of getting laid off from their jobs.
In his concluding remark, the chair of the webinar, Professor Dr Rahim B Talukdar, team leader of MiB and advisor at CED, BRAC University, stated that in an effort to take care of the garment industry, all the stakeholders must work together. The event was moderated by Syed Hasibuddin Hussain, project manager of MiB.
While this study and the evidence it generated help us understand the real impact of COVID-19, discussions such as these can bring together various stakeholders to leverage further research, advocacy, and collaboration. We hope to keep up the momentum to better protect the lives of garment workers in Bangladesh.
Sadril Shajahan is a research associate; Md Abdullah Al Kaium is a senior manager for communications and knowledge management; Faria Ahmad is a senior manager for research and knowledge management at Centre for Entrepreneurship Development, BRAC University.
Photo credit: Mapped in Bangladesh