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Bangladesh Factory
Source: Awaj Foundation

Bangladesh’s New Generation Of Women-Led Labor Unions Confronts The Pandemic

This article originally appeared on Forbes

What are you wearing? There’s a pretty good chance that the shirt on your back or the pants in your closet were produced in Bangladesh, whose garment factories supply many of the world’s most popular clothing brands and retailers—C&A, Target, Gap, Walmart, and others. But as the New York Times recently pointed out, one early industrial casualty of the coronavirus pandemic has been Bangladesh’s fast fashion manufacturing sector—a sector that accounts for 16% of the country’s GDP.

Now with Covid-19, the industry’s four million workers—most women—are seeing their lives upended, says Nazma Akhter, a union leader in Dhaka and founder of Awaj Foundation. She started working in Bangladesh’s garment factories when she was eleven years old. Over the decades she became a master negotiator and the architect of a new labor movement dedicated to supporting the industry’s workers.

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Negotiators have worked out arrangements with two factories that have now paid workers for March and are continuing to pay through factory closures that have been extended through April 14th. Phone hotlines have been set up that workers can call if they feel ill or need guidance. These efforts have been achieved through good faith efforts of management and workers during this very hard time.