TORONTO – The Steelworkers Humanity Fund (SHF) is contributing $45,000 in emergency relief to Bangladeshi garment workers reeling from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The emergency funding is being provided to long-time SHF partner the Bangladesh Center for Workers Solidarity (BCWS) to assist workers in dire need of support.
At the onset of the pandemic, garment retailers and fashion brands cancelled clothing orders and refused to pay for orders already produced or in production. Subsequent government loans to supplier factories did little to mitigate the situation, resulting in over 300,000 Bangladeshi workers losing their jobs and millions suffering undue wage cuts.
Having no choice between abject working conditions or going hungry, garment workers – the majority of them women – and their families are living under extreme financial precariousness. With Bangladesh currently under renewed lockdown following a significant rise in COVID-19 infection and death rates, the situation is rapidly deteriorating.
In this context, the BCWS is moving mountains to attend to those emergency needs while advocating for workers’ rights with Bangladeshi authorities, international brands and local manufacturers. The SHF support will provide 685 workers and their families with food hampers, which will benefit close to 2,800 people. The most vulnerable among them will also receive emergency financial assistance to help cover rent costs.
“Canadian garment companies with suppliers in Bangladesh have made significant profits during the pandemic, while garment workers are even worse off than before,” says Ken Neumann, United Steelworkers National Director and President of the SHF.
“The Steelworkers Humanity Fund contribution will make a big difference in the lives of many, but it is not nearly enough. Canadian brands have the power and the means to address the COVID wage gap and wage theft,” Neumann says.
“Steelworkers’ support at this time of crisis will be deeply appreciated by thousands of garment workers who were earning poverty wages before COVID. With no savings, job loss and wage theft during the pandemic has left many of these workers destitute,” says Kalpona Akter, Director of the BCWS.
“Canadian garment brands and retailers have a responsibility to protect the incomes of the women working in their global supply chains, but they have not yet done what they can, and should, be doing,” adds Akter.
The Steelworkers Humanity Fund is a registered charitable organization that promotes respect for human rights and contributes to development projects and emergency aid in developing countries, as well as supporting Canadian communities in crisis. United Steelworkers union members contribute to the fund through clauses negotiated into their collective agreements. In some cases employers make matching contributions.
The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity has been at the forefront of the struggle for workers’ safety, workers’ rights and gender-based violence in Bangladesh. Since the beginning of the pandemic, BCWS staff have been working flat out to ensure garment workers’ safety and incomes are protected.
Ken Neumann, President, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-544-5951
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Doug Olthuis, Executive Director, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-859-9953, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shannon Devine, USW Communications, 416-894-7118 (cell), email@example.com