Bangladesh has been identified by WHO as one of the 25 most vulnerable countries to be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, with a high population density, poor infrastructure, weak health systems and low awareness of basic preventive measures.
The textile sector is one of the largest contributors to the country’s GDP and the local and global effects of the pandemic has a great impact on textile workers within the garment industry. As a first step, H&M Foundation donated 12 million SEK (1.3 million USD) to WaterAid, CARE and Save the Children to provide around 76,000 young women, their families and community members in and around Dhaka with emergency relief, also reaching 1 million people with messages on COVID-19 and hygiene practices. In September 2021 this first phase of the project was extended, with another additional 2 million SEK (200,000 USD) each to the three partners.
The initial support includes:
- cash assistance for food, medication and other necessities
- health care and COVID-19 testing
- hygiene materials and handwashing facilities
- work on awareness raising
- support to families where gender-based violence increases as an effect of the crisis
- child protection and child education focusing on disadvantaged children.
From urgent needs to long-term support
The use of automation and digital technology is making its way into the textile industry, also creating a great risk of unemployment for millions of Bangladeshis. Women are particularly at risk, as they represent the majority of the total workforce within the garment industry and are often employed to execute the tasks which are highly susceptible to automation. There is an urgent need to create a skilled female workforce to save jobs and create new job opportunities.
Hence, H&M Foundation is also taking a long-term approach, running over several years, to support female garment workers in this transition. H&M Foundation will take on a holistic approach involving important players from different sectors to achieve systemic long-lasting change, equipping female textile workers in Bangladesh for a future where work is defined by automation and digitalization. We will for example be looking at upskilling, re-skilling, digital literacy efforts and entrepreneurship. We will also be launching community programs and utilizing social innovation to solve challenges or spark new ideas relevant to female textile workers employability.