In the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, global fashion companies canceled orders worth billions of US dollars from Bangladeshi producers. Along with global lockdowns, many factory workers have lost their jobs and have difficulty coping with everyday life. "Our factory is struggling to survive," said Gabriel Adhikary, managing director of a small textile factory in Dhaka.
Gabriel Adhikary runs a small textile factory that in December 2019 had 950 employees. Today, the number of 200 employees is due to the pandemic.
- We expect a dramatic reduction in orders when Europe now enters a second lockdown, says Adhikary.
In Bangladesh, 85 percent of textile workers have been negatively affected during the covid-19 pandemic and only half of the country's 4500 textile factories are currently in use, according to Adhikary.
Adhikary says they have had a 55 percent reduction in their orders and that he has spent many sleepless nights due to the crisis. BGMEA, Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, has repeatedly warned of the consequences that await workers when global fashion companies cancel their orders. This is a sum of several billion US dollars and ECCHR, the European Center for Constitutional & Human Rights, points out that this has led to mass redundancies of around one million workers.
At the same time as canceled and canceled orders destroy workers' ability to put food on the table, Oxfam states that a CEO of one of the five largest global fashion companies in four days earns what a textile factory worker earns throughout his life.
The big fashion brands have met with criticism from among others Human Rights Watch and Workers Rights Consortium. They call their actions during the pandemic unethical, both economically and morally. Although there are loopholes in established contracts, ECCHR believes that the action we have taken in the form of canceled orders probably goes against both the UN and OECD principles for both trade between multinational companies and human rights. The crisis support provided by the Bangladeshi government and the EU is not something that Adhikary's factory has benefited from.
- Many medium-sized factories could not receive the support and we now see how large factories will grow at the expense of the smaller ones. This problem is also something that BGMEA points to, says Adhikary.
The previously mentioned international organizations also believe that the crisis was created long before the pandemic. Some of the world's most profitable global fashion companies get their goods produced by workers who depend on their minimum wage and who have few other choices. The Institute for Multi-Stakeholder Initiative Integrity, MSI Integrity, highlights that voluntary social policy repeatedly fails to hold these large corporations accountable. The Covid-19 pandemic has further highlighted this as close to four million workers have been exposed to increased insecurity and financial difficulties.
A large part of the workforce in Adhikary's textile factory is women, about 94 percent. He says they work hard to keep the factory afloat and says:
- I hope in the end that we will be able to rise from this crisis to be able to offer jobs to our employees again.
RMG, Ready Made Garments, accounts for about 80 percent of Bangladesh's total exports. After China, Bangladesh is a world leader in RMG exports. Four million people work for RMG in Bangladesh, of which about 65 percent are women with now formal income-generating services. Source: Asian Development Bank