Bangladesh garment workers return to work amid lockdown

Thousands of textile workers have returned to work in factories in Bangladesh amid a nationwide coronavirus lockdown, raising fears of an increase in the spread of the contagion.

Factories in the capital Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong reopened after being permitted to resume work. The country's garment factories had closed in late March but under pressure from retailers to fulfill outstanding export orders, many resumed their operations, despite a nationwide lockdown in place until May 5.

More than four million people work in thousands of garment factories across Bangladesh, which last year shipped apparel worth $35bn to some of the world's leading retailers, such as H&M, Inditex, and Walmart.

"We have to accept coronavirus as part of life. If we don't open factories, there will be an economic crisis," said Mohammad Hatem, the vice president of Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association.

Last month, the government announced a $588m package for the crucial export-oriented sector to pay its workers, but garment manufacturers say funds were not enough to mitigate the crisis.

Recently, hundreds of textile workers took to the streets of Dhaka, demanding wage, flouting social distancing norms amid the nationwide lockdown. Garment workers have held smaller protests in recent weeks to demand wages lost during the crisis.

For about a week, there have been protests all across the country, workers demanding their back wages, some of the workers haven't been paid for two months and many are on the brink of starvation.

A nationwide lockdown is in place until May 5, but protesters said they would continue to violate the ban on movement if their demands were not met. In recent weeks, Bangladesh has sent troops out into the streets to help enforce a shutdown on travel and restrictions on religious gatherings and protests.


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