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Bangladesh: Garment workers at risk of COVID-19 infection as factories supplying to major brands reopen, against Health Ministry advice

Thousands of garment workers have returned to work across Bangladesh amid the nationwide COVID-19 shutdown as RMG factories begin to reopen to resume production, raising concerns over the risk of infection to both workers and communities. Hundreds of factories have been allowed to reopen, against advice from the Ministry of Health that all factories - except those producing personal protective equipment - should remain closed until 5 May.

Although the Bangladesh Manufacturers and Exporters Association has advised factories to only engage workers living nearby, unions say some factories have requested workers who had returned to their hometowns to resume work and job insecurity and concerns over payment of wages has made it difficult for workers to refuse. Reports are emerging that many factories do not have adequate safety measures to protect workers against the risk of infection. Meanwhile, thousands of workers continue to protest over unpaid wages after brands and retailers cancelled orders and delayed payments to their suppliers in response to the pandemic.

Factories have said they need to reopen as they are under pressure to complete and ship orders to meet deadlines. According to publicly available supplier lists and media reports, companies sourcing from the factories now re-opening include Tesco, Sainsbury’s, C&A and Primark.

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