The non-profit H&M Foundation is initiating a long-term project to support women garment workers in Bangladesh, starting with their urgent needs connected to COVID-19. As a first step, 12 million SEK (1.3 million USD) is donated to WaterAid, CARE and Save the Children to provide around 76,000 young women, their families and community members in around Dhaka with emergency relief, also reaching 1 million people with messages on COVID-19 and hygiene practices. The H&M Foundation also calls for others to show their support.
Bangladesh has been identified by WHO as one of the 25 most vulnerable countries to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a high population density, poor infrastructure, weak health systems and low awareness of basic preventive measures. As the coronavirus is rapidly spreading within the country some high-risk areas are currently in lockdown to maintain social distancing and flatten the curve.
The textile sector is one of the largest contributors to the country’s GDP and the local and global effects of the pandemic has a great impact on textile workers within the garment industry. At the same time, the use of automation and digital technology is making its way into the textile industry, also creating a great risk of unemployment for millions of Bangladeshis.
Women are particularly at risk, as they represent the majority of the total workforce within the garment industry and are often employed to execute the tasks which are highly susceptible to automation. There is an urgent need to create a skilled female workforce to save jobs and create new job opportunities.
From urgent needs to long-term support
H&M Foundation is initiating a long-term project, running over several years, to support women garment workers in these excessive transitions, starting with their urgent needs connected to COVID-19. As a first step, they are donating 12 million SEK (USD 1,3 million) to WaterAid, CARE and Save the Children to provide 26,700 young women and their families in and around Dhaka with emergency relief, also reaching 1 million people with messages on COVID-19 and hygiene practices.
“We will directly support women and their families with for example cash assistance for food, medication and other necessities, provide COVID-19 awareness raising and testing, hygiene materials and handwashing facilities. We hope to see more donors show their support in different ways.” Carola Tembe, Program Manager, H&M Foundation
H&M Foundation is also supporting families where gender based violence increases as an effect of the crisis, as well as specifically supporting disadvantaged children, focusing on child protection and child education.
To follow up, a holistic approach will be taken to involve important players from different sectors to achieve systemic, long-lasting change, equipping women garment workers in Bangladesh for a future where work is defined by automation and digitalization. H&M Foundation will for example be looking at upskilling, re-skilling, digital literacy efforts and entrepreneurship. They will also be launching community programs and utilizing social innovation to solve challenges or spark new ideas relevant to female textile workers employability.