RMG workers’ food security has worsened amid Covid-19: Survey
The food insecurity of workers in nine countries, including Bangladesh, during Covid-19, has been compounded by brands refusing to pay factories, a Worker Rights Consortium survey has found
- 77% of RMG workers or a member of their household have gone hungry since the beginning of the pandemic
- 80% with dependent children say they have to skip meals or reduce the amount or quality of food they eat – to feed their children
- 80% anticipate they will need to further reduce the amount of food they eat or purchase for their family if the situation does not improve
- 88% report having a diminished income
- 75% have borrowed money or accumulated debt
- 30% of suspended workers received no pay during their suspension period
"Potato is the only vegetable we can afford now," says a Bangladeshi worker employed at a ready-made garment factory that supplies Orsay.
Another Bangladeshi worker, who reports being terminated from her job at a factory that produces apparel for Kmart, Target and Walmart, says she and her family have been skipping breakfast every day for the past two months.
Now the egg is a luxurious food for a Bangladeshi worker who formerly produced apparel for Mango and Primark.
"Before the novel coronavirus pandemic, I would buy fruit for my child regularly. But after losing my job, I cannot buy fish or meat," the worker tells researchers of a US rights group.
These are the stories of apparel workers whose access to food and nutrition has been limited due to job losses or income erosion during the ongoing pandemic.
Washington-based rights group Worker Rights Consortium surveyed nearly 400 apparel workers of 158 factories in nine countries.
The survey report titled "Hunger in the Apparel Supply Chain" quotes workers sharing common experiences of being increasingly unable to obtain adequate food and nutrition as a result of their falling income while living costs have risen amid the pandemic.
It quotes a worker from Myanmar who is planning to eat rice soup for all her meals in order to be able to afford her rent.
The survey was undertaken between August and September this year. It presents new data on how garment workers' food security has deteriorated amid the pandemic.
The report says recent analysis of government trade data for the US and European markets identified a $16.2 billion shortfall in apparel imports, most of it the product of retroactive order cancellations.
Workers from the survey sample reported making clothes for over 100 apparel brands and retailers like Adidas, Gap, H&M, Nike, The Children's Place, PVH, Gildan, Walmart, JCPenney, and Express.
According to the report, garment workers' declining incomes are leading to widespread hunger among them and their families as they are increasingly unable to obtain adequate food and nutrition.
"These dynamics are a direct result of apparel brands' responses to the pandemic as well as the long-term trend of low wages for garment workers in brands' supply chains, which has left workers unprotected," the report states.
Labour expert Professor Genevieve LeBaron at the University of Sheffield, who assisted the Worker Rights Consortium in the survey, told The Guardian, "This is a system where the workers at the bottom are taking all the risk and paying the price when things go wrong."
The pandemic is compounding food insecurity that workers have faced for decades due to the long-term trend of low wages in apparel companies' supply chains, the rights group says.
Brands have exacerbated this crisis with their response to the pandemic, which included refusing to pay factories for orders placed before March, it points out.
Worker Rights Consortium Research Director Penelope Kyritsis told The Guardian, "Brands bear substantial responsibility for the destitution garment workers are facing."
The Worker Rights Consortium has pressed many brands to reverse their order cancellations, reinstating $15-20 billion of payments to factories around the world, claimed Chelsea Rudman, the rights group's director of development and strategic partnerships, in a statement.