One day Parvin was toiling to meet the fast-fashion demands of European capitals, the next she was among hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi clothes workers made instantly jobless as the coronavirus pandemic struck.
Big-name international brands have cancelled billions of dollars in orders because of the pandemic, decimating Bangladesh’s most important export industry and hurting in particular rural woman who dominate the workforce.
Parvin, a 28-year-old seamstress, joined thousands of workers queueing to collect final wages from tables of banknotes set up at the Al Muslim factory, one of the biggest in the country that supplies some of the world’s most famous labels.
The workers waited in long lines, each one metre apart in a bid to keep up social distancing, and the anxiety built as the towers of bank notes went down.
“We don’t know when it will reopen,” said Parvin, who collected her salary for March just before the giant complex closed its doors.
She has no other means to support her family going forward, and described her situation as a “catastrophe”.
“Many factories have already closed. My husband is jobless.”
Making the shirts, pullovers, bras and socks for stores in wealther nations is the foundation of Bangladesh’s impoverished economy.
It accounts for 80 percent of the South Asian nation’s $40 billion of annual exports and has played a vital role in its growth of the past two decades.
More than four million people, mainly women from poor rural villages, are employed in the sector.
But the industry has a reputation for running sweatshops, with workers toiling in unsafe factories without labour protections or a social safety net.
The 2013 Rana Plaza diaster, when the collapse of the garment complex claimed the lives of 1,130 lives, exposed appalling safety conditions in Bangladeshi factories.
Now, with international brands walking away and a government lockdown stopped people in Bangladesh travelling, laid-off workers are complaining of being dumped without any help.
Thousands of workers — some of whom had earnt just $100 a month — have staged multiple demonstrations over the past week complaining that factories have not paid them.