Ajisa Binte Sima worked at a factory in the Sagorika industrial area in Chattogram, Bangladesh, for seven months. Sima primarily made clothes for retail clothing for Kohl’s before she was terminated on June 23 with every other worker at her factory, who were there for less than a year.

She is one of the thousands of factory garment workers in Bangladesh laid off due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as clothing retailer corporations in the United States and Europe have canceled orders.

“I can’t pay my house rent. I’m having issues getting food for my family. This job was my only source of income,” Sima shared. “Because of COVID-19, work orders decreased, so the factory doesn’t need that many workers. Some buyers didn’t pay bills on time. Others are asking for discounts while thousands of workers like myself are going to bed without food.”

More than $3 billion worth of clothing orders in Bangladesh were canceled due to the pandemic. The cancellations have impacted 2.28 million workers.

Kohl’s alone canceled $150 million in orders, around $50 million from Bangladesh factories, weeks before paying out $109 million in dividends to shareholders.

“The temporary closure of all 1,159 Kohl’s stores caused us to significantly reduce our inventory to align with anticipated sales. As a result, we made the difficult decision to cancel orders with some of our suppliers where we had the contractual right to do so,” a Kohl’s spokesperson told Shadowproof.

The canceled orders mean Bangladeshi workers are faced with wage decreases and unpaid wages.

Rintu Barua has worked for twenty years at a garment factory in Chattogram, Bangladesh that also produces clothing primarily for Kohl’s. Barua has only received 65 percent of his salary from the factory in recent months and received only 50 percent of his bonus for Eid Mubarak in May 2020.

“I haven’t been able to pay rent on my house for the past two months, and the owner is pressuring me to come up with the rent,” Barua said.

According to Barua, garment factory workers in Bangladesh typically work 8 to 10 hours per week, six days a week. Many continued working during the pandemic to try to keep up with previous delivery dates and orders.

“Every day there are a few factories getting closed. Thousands of workers have lost their jobs and thousands will lose their job within the next couple of months,” Barua added. “Workers are facing a really hard time and some are leaving the city because they are now unable to afford the cost of living in the cities.”

Some workers requested they remain anonymous for fear of retaliation as they struggle with unpaid wages and unsafe working conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Salaries have been reduced and bonuses have been halved,” said a garment factory worker in the Gaizpur division of Dhaka, Bangladesh. “Factory management often stock their products in advance from our overtime. They always have an option to profit. But during COVID-19, they said that they have no money as orders are canceled.”

For four years, the worker has been at the garment factory in Gaizpur making clothes for several companies, primarily Puma.

The worker’s factory closed down for a month on March 26, and despite reopening, they only received 60 percent of their salary for March, April, and May, and have not received payment for the month of June.

They explained workers with less than one year of seniority have not been called back, along with several pregnant women.

During the pandemic, the worker said social distancing is not practiced and overtime has been eliminated, but workers still suffer verbal abuse from supervisors if they show any tiredness or make any small mistakes.

“In Bangladesh, we canceled less than 1.5 percent of our orders and as said, we paid these suppliers for the costs of canceled orders,” a Puma spokesperson stated. “We are working with the Better Work Program of the ILO in Bangladesh to make sure that our suppliers follow all legal requirements, including layoff regulations.”

Another worker, in the Asulia, Baipail area of Dhaka, Bangladesh, makes clothing for several European clothing retail companies. Their factory has been closed since March, and they’ve only received a portion of wages.

“I don’t have a husband and am facing a serious financial crisis along with my three sons and daughter. This is very difficult for me to carry the expenses of the family, we’re passing days almost half-starving,” the worker shared.

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato

Michael Sainato is a Freelance Journalist based in Gainesville, Florida. His writing has appeared in The Intercept, The Hill, The Guardian, Denver Post, Truth-Out, and several other publications. Follow him on Twitter @MSainat1