The pandemic has wiped away billions of dollars in orders from large-scale foreign brands, decimating Bangladesh’s largest export industry and especially rural women in particular, who dominate the workforce.
Making tops, pullovers, bras and socks for wealther nations stores accounts for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s $40 billion annual exports, and has played a crucial role in its development over the past two decades. More than four million people are employed in this sector, mainly women from poor rural villages.
But the industry has a reputation for running sweatshops, with workers toiling in unsafe factories without labour protections or a social safety net. The 2013 Rana Plaza diaster, when the collapse of the garment complex claimed the lives of 1,130 lives, exposed appalling safety conditions in Bangladeshi factories.
Now, with international brands walking away and a government lockdown stopped people in Bangladesh travelling, laid-off workers are complaining of being dumped without any help.
International brands have cancelled or kept orders worth $3.11 billion, affecting more than two million employees in the region, according to BGMEA.