‘Vulnerable’ garment staff in Bangladesh bear the brunt of the coronavirus pandemic

Bangladeshi employee works at a garment manufacturing unit in Gazipur outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, on March 6, 2020.

Mehedi Hasan| NurPhoto | Getty Images

SINGAPORE — The coronavirus outbreak has left the garment sector in Bangladesh reeling — and hundreds of manufacturing unit staff bore the brunt of it as their livelihoods have been abruptly taken from them.

The garment business has lengthy been the lifeline of the financial system, however because the pandemic ravaged the world, billions of dollars worth of orders were canceled as world retailers shut their doorways and types held again orders.

Before the outbreak started, 22-year-old Mousumi, who declined to offer her final identify, began a brand new job at a garment manufacturing unit in January after being unemployed since 2018. She made about 10,000 Bangladeshi taka ($118) every month till March, when factories across the nation have been ordered shut in order to gradual the unfold of the virus.

When factories reopened with restricted capability in April, Mousumi stated she was placed on standby for 3 months. Then, on Aug. 1, she stated she was fired.

“They have been solely saying one factor: that they are firing individuals due to coronavirus,” Mousumi stated, in accordance with CNBC’s translation of her remarks in Bengali.

Dulali, additionally 22, misplaced her job at ABA Fashions Limited in April the place she used to make as much as 11,000 taka a month with time beyond regulation pay. She has struggled to safe employment since then. Like Mousumi, she too was instructed the pandemic was to be blamed.

“They stated due to coronavirus, there have been no new orders coming and the manufacturing unit proprietor was struggling to pay staff,” Dulali stated, in accordance with CNBC’s translation of her remarks in Bengali. She stated her job search had been futile and that many others like her have been additionally on the lookout for work.

Dulali resides along with her eight-year-old daughter. “We reside underneath quite a lot of hardship proper now,” she instructed CNBC. She stated they owe about 16,000 taka in lease. They at the moment are scraping by along with her earnings of round 500 taka every month as a cook dinner at her landlord’s place — a fraction of the pay she used to earn.

CNBC spoke with six staff, together with Mousumi and Dulali, by telephone via the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation which works with numerous commerce unions. Some of them are employed, whereas others say they’ve been on the lookout for work since April or May.

All of them spoke in regards to the monetary hardship they face, together with potential destitution, exacerbated by the pandemic’s crippling influence.

These are essentially the most weak staff, precarious in so many alternative methods and so they’re paying the harshest worth for this disaster.

Mark Anner

Professor at Penn State University

As the virus unfold, many prime retail manufacturers canceled orders that have been already in manufacturing. The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) estimated the pandemic had a right away influence on 1,150 factories that reported $3.18 billion value of order cancellations. Between March and June this 12 months, Bangladesh misplaced $4.9 billion value of attire in comparison with the identical interval in 2019, according to BGMEA.

BGMEA instructed CNBC that within the final three to 4 months its member factories have reported 71,000 staff have been laid off. A spokesperson stated that almost all factories have retrenched staff who have been employed for lower than a 12 months.

‘Vulnerable’ and ‘precarious’

Bangladeshi feminine staff work at a clothes manufacturing unit in Gazipur outskirts of Dhaka on February 17, 2018.

Mehedi Hasan | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Some 4.1 million staff — largely girls — work within the sector. But they usually work lengthy hours underneath punishing situations, and earn very low wages.

“These are among the most weak staff in Bangladesh and in international locations the place there’s garment exports. Young staff, girls staff, (are) usually inside migrants. So they’re coming from the countryside to the town,” Mark Anner, a professor of labor and employment relations at Penn State University, instructed CNBC.

There aren’t any fastened obligation occasions. There is quite a lot of stress at work, so we’re pressured to work.


Bangladeshi garment employee

Bilkis Bigum, 30, misplaced her job as a garment manufacturing unit employee on April Four and has not discovered work since. To get by, she labored at a sick neighbor’s home as a home helper and initially relied on others for assist with meals.

She’s now taking on non permanent, hourly work that nets her round 200 taka to 300 taka — but it surely’s not sufficient to pay lease in the meanwhile. Her brothers, who’re working, typically assist her out however they’ve their very own households to take care of too, Bigum stated.

“Now I work right here and there, no less than that approach I can earn some cash,” she instructed CNBC in Bengali.

Many of them haven’t got financial savings and reside from paycheck to paycheck, Anner defined. So, after they lose their jobs, the influence is instant.

“Sometimes their households again residence rely upon them, on inside remittances — sending cash from the town again residence to their households. These are essentially the most weak staff, precarious in so many alternative methods and so they’re paying the harshest worth for this disaster,” he added.

Anner published a report in March in regards to the pandemic’s instant influence on Bangladesh’s clothes sector. He stated the report discovered many manufacturers have been initially unwilling to pay suppliers for the manufacturing prices and uncooked supplies that have been already bought. That pressured many factories to close down operations and furlough or hearth staff.

Reuters reported that whereas exports have staged a restoration in current months, manufacturing unit homeowners count on orders to be slashed by two-thirds, and say retail patrons have been demanding as much as 15% worth cuts.

Poor working situations

Mousumi stated she joined a brand new manufacturing unit simply over a month in the past that makes T-shirts and face masks.

The work hours usually lengthen past the standard Eight a.m. to five p.m., she stated, including that she typically labored shifts that stretched past midnight. “There aren’t any fastened obligation occasions,” she stated in Bengali. “There is quite a lot of stress at work, so we’re pressured to work. They give time beyond regulation for any work we do after 5 p.m.”

The wage she attracts is lower than what she earned at her earlier manufacturing unit, she stated. She makes about 8,500 taka per thirty days, about $100, and receives time beyond regulation compensation on days she works past 5 p.m.

“It’s much less however I’m not discovering work anyplace else,” Mousumi stated. “I’ve quite a lot of issues in my household so I’m pressured to do that job.”

The minimal wage that exists in lots of the Asian international locations, together with locations like Bangladesh and Cambodia, do not cowl the essential prices of residing – what we name a residing wage – for these staff.

Thulsi Narayanasamy

Business & Human Rights Resource Centre

Brands maintain energy

Narayanasamy stated the basis trigger for the quite a few points dealing with staff within the world attire business is the “deep energy imbalance between the style manufacturers and the manufacturing unit suppliers and staff.”

As there are extra suppliers than patrons, style manufacturers, via their buying practices, decide how a lot they pay for orders and how much turnaround time they offer to factories.

“Factories will not be ready to barter strongly due to the large variety of factories across the globe and the small variety of style manufacturers that monopolize the sector,” she stated. “So what we find yourself seeing then throughout the board, there may be nonpayment of a residing wage — and that is been properly documented for a very long time.”

Penn State’s Anner stated he’s now researching what present and future orders from manufacturers to the factories would appear to be at a time when world demand for attire is low as international locations stay in partial lockdowns and many individuals are being requested to work at home.

Ready made clothes staff works in a clothes manufacturing unit in Dhaka on July 25, 2020.

Ahmed Salahuddin | NurPhoto | Getty Images

“The huge corporations do not understand how a lot they are going to promote within the coming months, they aren’t certain methods to forecast going ahead, in order that they’re usually inserting orders — however at a lot smaller quantity than they might have this time a 12 months in the past,” he stated. Data indicated patrons have been pushing down on worth way more now than they did years in the past, he added.

“That to me is a substantial concern as a result of that is a double squeeze on the suppliers and the squeezes on suppliers at all times translate right into a squeeze on staff,” he stated.

For lots of the staff, the pandemic has exacerbated their poverty and pushed them deeper into debt.

Mousumi stated she takes care of her mom and has to ship a month-to-month allowance to her in-laws. She stated she amassed debt whereas she was unemployed between 2018 and 2020. After dropping her final job in August, she additionally accrued rental dues.

“Financially, I used to be dealing with quite a lot of difficulties … so I needed to take that job,” she stated.

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