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24 Apr 2020

Rebecca Wright & Salman Saeed, CNN Business

Bangladesh: garment workers bear the brunt as retailers cancel & delay orders without payment

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“Bangladeshi garment workers face ruin as global brands ditch clothing contracts amid coronavirus pandemic”, 22 April 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has led factories to furlough or lay off more than half of the country's nearly 4.1 million garment workers … most of them are women, and the roughly $110 they earn every month is often their families' only source of money.

Global lockdowns and unprecedented job losses have caused demand for [clothing] … to evaporate ... international apparel brands and retailers … [have cancelled or suspended] an estimated $3.17 billion worth of orders in the country …

"We have families in our village who are dependent on us," [a laid off worker] said. "Whatever we earn here we send it back home. Now my family (will) have to live without eating."

… Wages are already low in the industry … [and] workers don't have a lot of savings …

… [T]he brands [factories] work with aren't fulfilling the terms of their contracts. More than half of the 316 Bangladesh suppliers surveyed by Penn State University's Center for Global Workers' Rights said that most of their finished or in-process orders have been canceled since the pandemic began … [by] mostly European and American brands.

The survey found that more than 98% of buyers refused to contribute to the partial wages of furloughed workers that the law requires …

"These workers are really poor," said  [Aruna Kashyap, senior counsel. women's rights division of Human Rights Watch] " … And at this moment of crisis it's really important for brands and retailers to live up to their human rights responsibilities."

The Bangladeshi government is providing some assistance. In March and April, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced more than $8.5 billion in stimulus measures that includes loans to help factory owners pay worker salaries.

Even so, factory owners said they are concerned about taking out the government loans. The money would still have to be repaid within two years — a commitment they feared making given how unclear the coronavirus pandemic remains.