Pandemic affects both owners and workers: ILO study
About 230,749 individuals employed by the members of Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) did not return to work as of May this year after the reopening of the factories, according to a study by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
This number represents 41 per cent of the total workforce under the BWB, a programme run by the ILO to ensure compliance in the member factories.
Senior officials of the ILO shared these findings during a webinar on the study styled, 'The supply chain ripple effect: How Covid-19 is affecting garment workers and factories in Asia and the Pacific'.
The study was conducted in May this year.
However, the ILO could not ascertain exactly how many workers have returned after May as it does not have the latest employment figures, the officials said.
Besides, BWB data indicates that one in five workers received their wages later than the legally mandated seven working-day window at the start of a month.
By June 2020, the total year-to-date imports from Bangladesh fell by as much as 29 per cent compared to the same period a year before, they added.
Although comprehensive data on the decline in apparel orders caused by Covid-19 is not available, a Better Buying survey on 179 suppliers from 30 Asia-Pacific countries, including Bangladesh, found that 64 per cent of all garment factories in the region suffered order cancellations.
As per the survey, 38 per cent of the 250 BWB member factories faced reduced orders or were asked to delay their shipments while 34 per cent endured full cancellations.
Meanwhile, the remaining 4 per cent could not even produce any apparel item due to a lack of raw material, it said.
According to a separate study conducted by the Penn State Centre for Global Workers' Rights in March, around 72 per cent of the buyers that cancelled their work orders after the goods had already been made did not pay for raw materials while 91 per cent did not pay the production cost.
In a bid to prevent the spread of coronavirus within Bangladesh, the government declared a nationwide 'general holiday' that lasted from March 26 till May 30.
During this period, 348 garment factories were closed down in line with lockdown regulations, according to data of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association.
About 60 per cent of these companies were shuttered for over three weeks, as per a BWB survey.
Bangladesh has since seen a return in work orders, particularly from buyers seeking to recover orders that were placed in the pre-pandemic era.
However, producers are seeing vast differences in the distribution of resumed orders with larger firms recovering more orders than their small and medium-sized counterparts, the study said.
The ILO research highlights that major buying countries' imports from garment-exporting nations in Asia dropped by as much as 70 per cent in the first half of 2020, due to falling consumer demand, government lockdown measures, and disruptions to raw material imports.
As of September 2020, almost half of all jobs in the garment supply chain were dependent on the demand for garments from consumers living in countries with the most stringent lockdown measures in place, where retail sales have plummeted.
The Asia-Pacific region employed an estimated 65 million workers in the garment sector 2019, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide.
Speaking about the findings, Chihoko Asada Miyakawa, the ILO's regional director for Asia and the Pacific, said that this research highlights the massive impact Covid-19 has had on the garment industry at every level.
"Thankfully though, many apparel exporters have resumed their operations over the past few months. At the same time, these resilient Bangladeshi enterprises and workforces are having to wrestle with the ongoing pandemic and ensure safe conditions for all," said Tuomo Poutiainen, country director for ILO Bangladesh.