Sanchita Banerjee Saxena on COVID-19 and garment workers in Bangladesh

WIDER Webinar Series

Sanchita Banerjee Saxena on COVID-19 and garment workers in Bangladesh

Sanchita Banerjee Saxena joins the WIDER Webinar Series to discuss a recent study on the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the garment workers in Bangladesh.

The garment industry in Bangladesh under COVID-19: Lessons from the Rana Plaza disaster on how we understand worker safety

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world’s economy and supply chains worldwide. The ready-made garment (RMG) sector in Bangladesh has been especially hard hit as consumer demand for apparel has plummeted, leading to global retailers cancelling orders and revising their sourcing strategies.

To situate what is currently happening to the industry under this global pandemic, Sanchita Banerjee Saxena will draw some lessons from an earlier crisis in Bangladesh – from one of the worst industrial disasters in history, the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in 2013. This presentation will focus specifically on the distorted notions of what constitutes safety for workers, primarily for women workers, which continue to perpetuate the cycle of labor violations for those at the very bottom of global supply chain. Banerjee Saxena argues that the lack of progress in many key areas created a situation that was ripe for suffering under an unanticipated and unprecedented global pandemic.

The presentation will draw on evidence from a survey with BRAC University, Bangladesh where 1,057 garment workers were interviewed to understand how the pandemic had impacted their lives (Rabbani, A, Saxena, SB & Islam, MF, 2020).

Maheen Sultan will join as discussant. She will be sharing insights on the role of labour unions in the context of state-business-labour relations in the RMG sector and how the various COVID-19 related stimulus packages for the sector were designed, managed and followed through by the government agencies.

The event will be chaired by UNU-WIDER director Kunal Sen.

About the speakers

Dr. Sanchita Banerjee Saxena is the Executive Director of the Institute for South Asia Studies (Institute) at UC Berkeley and the Director of the Subir and Malini Chowdhury Center for Bangladesh Studies under the Institute. She is also a lecturer of responsible business at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley and the author and editor of several books, articles, and commentaries.

She has been a Practitioner Resident at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center in Italy and a Public Policy Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington D.C.  She currently serves on the BRAC USA Advisory Council. Dr. Saxena holds a PhD in political science from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Maheen Sultan is Senior Fellow of Practice and one of the founders of the Centre for Gender and Social Transformation at the BRAC Development Institute, BRAC University, which is a regional centre on research, teaching and policy related to gender and social transformation. She is a development practitioner with over 25 years experience working for NGOs, donors, the UN, Grameen Bank and the Bangladesh Government in a range of capacities, from direct programme management to policy formulation.

She has worked on issues of social development, poverty, civil society and community participation and gender equality. Maheen Sultan is also a member of Naripokkho, a Bangladeshi women’s activist organisation. At present she is involved in research on movements to counter backlash against gender equality including the movement for women labour rights.