Covid-19: NGOs warn of the plight of textile workers in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

More than fifty local and international organizations are calling on public representatives and companies to take measures to protect their textile workers. Bangladesh experienced its deadliest day since the start of the crisis in August, with a 20% positivity rate, while Sri Lanka sees the number of infections and deaths doubling. But the two countries, very dependent on their clothing exports, nevertheless exempt their populations from containment measures.

A factory in Dhaka in March 2020 – Shutterstock

“It is unbearable that Sri Lankan and Bangladeshi workers have to choose between death and dismissal,” said a joint statement today signed by several local organizations and unions, but especially by some fifty American and European organizations, such as Clean Clothes Campaign, Fair, Worker Rights Consorium, PayUp FashionCoalition, Labor behind the Label or Fair Action.

Organizations that point out that, in the two garment-exporting countries, workers in the garment industry have little access to medical infrastructure or vaccines, and are particularly affected while receiving little support s ‘they get sick. A point on which these organizations indicate trying to alert national governments, business leaders, but also international brands for months.

Today, NGOs and unions are making five specific demands. Starting with the removal of clothing production from the list of “essential services” escaping confinement, and the need to provide vaccines and screenings to workers who must nevertheless go to the production sites. The implementation of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) standards formulated by the International Labor Organization (ILO), which include distancing, protective equipment and adaptation of transport systems, is also required.


One of the central points of the demands is that employees forced to take time off work due to health restrictions continue to receive their full salary. In addition, it is requested that employees can refuse risky work, and not deprive employees wishing to confine themselves of their unemployment benefits, crisis aid or even severance pay when these occur.

In fiscal 2020, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka were respectively the 2nd and 10th largest suppliers of clothing to the European Union. With for the first 14.6 billion euros of goods shipped to the Old Continent, in contraction of 17% with the health crisis. Sri Lanka for its part supplied Europe with 1.4 billion euros of clothing, also experiencing a decline of 17%.

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