Coronavirus worsened the truth for Bangladesh garment staff

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

Mehedi Hasan| NurPhoto | Getty Photos

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 had 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 value of orders had been canceled as world retailers shut their doorways and types held again orders.

Earlier than 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 had been ordered shut in order to gradual the unfold of the virus.

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

“They had been solely saying one factor: that they are firing individuals due to coronavirus,” Mousumi mentioned, based on CNBC’s translation of her remarks in Bengali.

Dulali, additionally 22, misplaced her job at ABA Fashions Restricted 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 advised the pandemic was to be blamed.

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

Dulali resides along with her eight-year-old daughter. “We live underneath loads of hardship proper now,” she advised CNBC. She mentioned they owe about 16,000 taka in lease. They’re now scraping by along with her earnings of round 500 taka every month as a prepare 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 by the Bangladesh Unbiased Garment Staff Union Federation which works with numerous commerce unions. A few of them are employed, whereas others say they’ve been searching for work since April or Might.

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 probably the most susceptible staff, precarious in so many alternative methods and so they’re paying the harshest worth for this disaster.

Mark Anner

Professor at Penn State College

Because the virus unfold, many prime retail manufacturers canceled orders that had been already in manufacturing. The Bangladesh Garment Producers and Exporters Affiliation (BGMEA) estimated the pandemic had a right away influence on 1,150 factories that reported $three.18 billion value of order cancellations. Between March and June this yr, Bangladesh misplaced $four.9 billion value of attire in comparison with the identical interval in 2019, based on BGMEA.

BGMEA advised CNBC that within the final three to 4 months its member factories have reported 71,000 staff have been laid off. A spokesperson mentioned that the majority factories have retrenched staff who had been employed for lower than a yr.

‘Susceptible’ and ‘precarious’

Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest clothes exporter — behind solely China, based on rankings company Moody’s.

The garment business is a serious supply of export earnings for the nation. Prepared-made clothes comprised 83% of Bangladesh’s complete exports value $33.67 billion in its 2019-2020 fiscal yr, based on knowledge posted by BGMEA.

Greater than four,600 garment factories in Bangladesh make shirts, T-shirts, jackets, sweaters, and trousers. The attire are principally shipped to Europe, the United States and Canada, to be bought by native retailers in these nations.

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

Mehedi Hasan | NurPhoto | Getty Photos

Some four.1 million staff — principally ladies — work within the sector. However they typically work lengthy hours underneath punishing situations, and earn very low wages.

“These are a number of the most susceptible staff in Bangladesh and in nations the place there’s garment exports. Younger staff, ladies staff, (are) typically inner migrants. In order that they’re coming from the countryside to town,” Mark Anner, a professor of labor and employment relations at Penn State College, advised CNBC.

There aren’t any fastened responsibility instances. There may be loads of strain at work, so we’re compelled 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 over short-term, hourly work that nets her round 200 taka to 300 taka — however it’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 mentioned.

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

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

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

Anner printed a report in March in regards to the pandemic’s rapid influence on Bangladesh’s clothes sector. He mentioned the report discovered many manufacturers had been initially unwilling to pay suppliers for the manufacturing prices and uncooked supplies that had been already bought. That compelled many factories to close down operations and furlough or fireplace staff.

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

Poor working situations

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

The work hours typically lengthen past the same old eight a.m. to five p.m., she mentioned, including that she typically labored shifts that stretched past midnight. “There aren’t any fastened responsibility instances,” she mentioned in Bengali. “There may be loads of strain at work, so we’re compelled to work. They offer 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 mentioned. She makes about eight,500 taka monthly, about $100, and receives time beyond regulation compensation on days she works past 5 p.m.

“It is much less however I’m not discovering work wherever else,” Mousumi mentioned. “I’ve loads of issues in my household so I’m compelled to do that job.”

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

Thulsi Narayanasamy

Enterprise & Human Rights Useful resource Centre

Manufacturers maintain energy

Narayanasamy mentioned the foundation trigger for the quite a few points going through 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 consumers, vogue manufacturers, by their buying practices, decide how a lot they pay for orders and what sort of turnaround time they offer to factories.

“Factories are usually not ready to barter strongly due to the massive variety of factories across the globe and the small variety of vogue manufacturers that monopolize the sector,” she mentioned. “So what we find yourself seeing then throughout the board, there’s nonpayment of a dwelling wage — and that is been nicely documented for a very long time.”

Penn State’s Anner mentioned he’s now researching what present and future orders from manufacturers to the factories would appear like at a time when world demand for attire is low as nations stay in partial lockdowns and many individuals are being requested to make money working from home.

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

Ahmed Salahuddin | NurPhoto | Getty Photos

“The large corporations do not know the way a lot they will promote within the coming months, they don’t seem to be certain learn how to forecast going ahead, in order that they’re typically inserting orders — however at a lot smaller quantity than they’d have this time a yr in the past,” he mentioned. Information indicated consumers had been pushing down on worth far 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 mentioned.

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

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

“Financially, I used to be going through loads of difficulties … so I needed to take that job,” she mentioned.

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