Collapse Of Bangladesh’s Garment Industry During Coronavirus Leaves Its Workers More Vulnerable Than Ever

Millions of garment factory staff in Bangladesh have already been released from work in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, leaving them without income and without choice but to come back to cramped homes in slums or villages, without resources to fight the pandemic and even with the basic ability to sustain their lives.

The garment and textile business is the number one industry in Bangladesh, accounting for 80% of the country’s exports. They will be the 2nd greatest individual country for apparel manufacturing on earth behind China and is where brands like H&M, Target and Marks and Spencer produce a lot of their goods. 

This dangerous cocktail of out-of-work, low-wage personnel surviving in cramped slums without basic sanitation or the capability to isolate, in conjunction with having less income because of being laid off from the factories have the potential to leave the workers in circumstances of abject poverty and with the risk of an outbreak in this already vulnerable community. A predicament which could also prove to be a ticking-time bomb for the country as a whole.

“When you speak about isolation in a densely populated country, it’s a tale,” says labor activist Kalpona Akter. Akter may be the Executive Director of the Bangladesh Centre for Worker Solidarity (BCWS) and is a former child laborer that fights against the exploitation of garment factory workers.

“In other countries people can isolate. Our people don’t have that possibility. Workers reside in houses that certainly are a 10 x 10 room where 5 or 6 people live. If one individual gets infected in a community, everyone will be infected.”

Akter is right that self-quarantine and social distancing is a near-impossible task for the masses in Bangladesh. It’s among the world’s most densely populated countries, where 164 million persons are packed into 57,000 square miles. That’s an area roughly how big is NEW YORK containing half the populace of the United States. The administrative centre city of Dhaka, which is approximately the size of Philadelphia at 118 square miles, houses almost 21 million inhabitants. Philadelphia, compared, only has 1.5 million people. In Dhaka, residents go on top of one another in the best of conditions, and live packed like sardines in the worst of conditions.

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