The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has lambasted apparel factory owners for reportedly forcing readymade garments (RMG) workers to report to work through threats of layoff.
The move came at a time when the previously declared 10-day general holiday had been extended to April 14 to ensure social distancing and home quarantine.
In a statement issued to the media on Sunday, the anti-corruption watchdog said the "insensitivity" of apparel makers has laid the lives of tens of thousands of workers and ordinary people on the line.
TIB considers it a violation of safety and health rights of RMG workers as they have been forced to rush to their workplaces in extremely adverse conditions from faraway places.
Dr Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of TIB, said the government is strongly advising people to stay home except for unavoidable emergencies for the next few weeks.
"The global supply chain of RMG related products is at a standstill now and there is no scope for shipping the products at this stage. RMG products or any of its ingredients are not perishable either."
One of the first key decisions of the prime minister, after she declared coronavirus-related challenges a national crisis, was to stand by the RMG sector, TIB said.
About 85 percent of the Tk5,000 crore fund she announced to disburse as a loan for paying wages and the benefit of export-oriented industries is targeted towards the RMG sector, the anti-corruption watchdog stated.
Even then, the sector leaders took this step against public interest by pushing workers to come to work, TIB added.
"Workers returned to their workplace from afar taking huge risks. Then at about midnight, the BGMEA [Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association] made a further confusing call to close factories.
"A large number of factories are reportedly still open, adding to more confusion and misery of the workers."
The factory owners once again showed that their narrow self-interest comes first, not the welfare of their workers, TIB said.
Iftekharuzzaman explained that the factory owners made this risky move as they preferred the government fund to be an outright grant rather than a refundable loan at a negligible service charge.