Bangladeshi workers in the readymade garments sector suffered a 35 per cent pay cut during the lockdown for the ongoing pandemic last year, according to a new study.
"While the industry suffered from the closure of markets, suspended shipments, delayed payments and a liquidity crisis, Bangladeshi workers suffered what was in effect a 35% pay cut during the lockdown month," the study reads.
The study report titled "The Weakest Link in the Global Supply Chain: How the Pandemic is Affecting Bangladesh's Garment Workers" was virtually launched today.
The Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies and UC Berkeley in collaboration with the Institute for Human Rights and Business with support from UNDP Bangladesh and Sweden conducted the study.
The report is drawn from in-depth interviews conducted between October 2020 and February 2021 with senior executives from international brands, Bangladeshi suppliers, representatives of the international civil society, and Bangladeshi labour activists.
It sought to understand the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the industry and the workers and it proposes changes to policies and practices that can lead to long-term changes that would benefit global retailers, suppliers, and ultimately workers themselves.
The study said many Bangladeshi factories supplying to international brands consolidated their business.
Many thousands of workers lost jobs and depleted their savings without having a safety net to fall back on, according to a statement.
"As Bangladesh's second lockdown is underway, the findings offer a cautionary tale on how brands and supply chains should respond."
UNDP Bangladesh Resident Representative Sudipto Mukerjee suggested a fundamental mind shift in terms of the role and responsibilities of the business sector.
"If we want to reverse pernicious trends that have offset much of the pre-Covid progress made in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, we must commit ourselves to tackle the crisis head-on and to do so together."
Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies Director Sanchita Saxena said it is extremely critical, now more than ever, to engage in research to understand the impacts of Covid-19 throughout the world.
"In Bangladesh, while the pandemic has disproportionately affected vulnerable communities, it has been particularly detrimental for the workers at the very bottom of global supply chains in the nation's many garment factories."
While the scale of the pandemic took everyone by surprise, lessons must be learned from the experience so that the effect of Bangladesh's second lockdown, now underway, causes the least harm to those who suffered the most the last time, said Salil Tripathi, IHRB's senior adviser for global issues and the report's co-author.
Labour Secretary KM Abdus Salam shared different initiatives taken by the labour ministry for the welfare of garment workers during the lockdown period and to continue the production.
"We also need to develop occupational health and safety culture, which can create a brand image and goodwill."
Faruque Hassan, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association, also spoke of some steps with support from the government to ensure safety of garment workers, including establishment of isolation centres and Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) lab.
National Human Rights Commission Member Kamal Uddin Ahmed also spoke.