The COVID-19 pandemic plunged the fashion industry into turmoil, as supply chain disruptions and store closures threatened the profits of the world’s biggest brands. The response of the fashion industry was abrupt. International brands took immediate action to cut costs - cancelling and delaying billions of dollars of clothing orders from factories in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia. At the other end of the supply chain, mass layoffs pushed garment workers into crisis as poverty and hunger grew.

Nearly two years on, while many fashion brands have returned to profitability, the situation for garment workers remains dire and the road to recovery long. Through interviews with over 200 garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia, this report provides evidence of the daily realities for the mostly women workers in the sector, who have been left wearing the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is an urgent reminder that the decisions made by fashion brands in Australia, and other wealthy countries, have very real consequences for the workers toiling day in day out in garment factories around the world. When their profits were on the line, the response from fashion brands was swift, and the consequences for garment workers catastrophic. With the pandemic shining a new light on an industry already plagued by exploitation, it is beyond time for fashion brands to take real action to provide fair wages and decent working conditions for the women making their clothes.

Key findings:

  • Most workers were earning well below the living wage before the pandemic hit  
  • Workers in Bangladesh suffered a wage drop of 7.5% due to COVID-19  
  • 36% of workers in Bangladesh lost their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic  
  • 13% of workers in Cambodia, of which 93% were from the Violet Apparel factory, which produced products for Nike, lost their jobs  
  • Two-thirds of terminated workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia didn’t receive any severance pay 
  • More than two-thirds of workers reported that their household has run out of money to buy food since the pandemic began 
  • Nearly half of surveyed workers had to take on additional debt to cover basic household costs 
  • 56% of workers in Cambodia and 28% in Bangladesh said that their rights at work have gotten worse since the pandemic began 
  • Almost half of women workers in Cambodia, and one-third in Bangladesh reported experiencing harassment or violence at work. 
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