Press Release: Australian brands are failing garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia during COVID-19

As the world commemorates Human Rights Day, Australian brands must step up and support the rights of the garment workers in their supply chain. New research launched today by global women’s rights organisation, ActionAid Australia, has revealed that garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia – two prominent garment producing countries for the Australian market – are not earning enough to cover basic living costs for their families during COVID-19.  


ActionAid Australia with partners in Bangladesh and Cambodia surveyed 218 garment workers revealing how two years on from the start of the pandemic, the world’s leading fashion brands continue to push the costs of COVID-19 onto the women garment workers making their clothes.  

Key research findings from the report, Casualties of Fashion: How garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia are wearing the cost of COVID-19, include:  

  • Most workers were earning well below the living wage before the pandemic hit  
  • Workers in Bangladesh suffered a wage drop of 7.5% due to COVID-19  
  • 36% of workers in Bangladesh lost their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic  
  • 13% of workers in Cambodia, of which 93% were from the Violet Apparel factory, which produced products for Nike, lost their jobs  
  • Two-thirds of terminated workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia didn’t receive any severance pay 
  • More than two-thirds of workers reported that their household has run out of money to buy food since the pandemic began 
  • Nearly half of surveyed workers had to take on additional debt to cover basic household costs 
  • 56% of workers in Cambodia and 28% in Bangladesh said that their rights at work have gotten worse since the pandemic began 
  • Almost half of women workers in Cambodia, and one-third in Bangladesh reported experiencing harassment or violence at work. 

“Off the back of garment workers in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia, Australian brands made more than $1 billion in profit in the 2020-21 fiscal year. Yet, garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia experienced job cuts, had their wages slashed and their rights at work threatened with many pushed further into poverty, hunger and debt.” says Michelle Higelin, Executive Director at ActionAid Australia, “ActionAid Australia is supporting garment workers’ demands for a living wage, decent working conditions and the right to unionise by calling on Australian brands to step up and support the rights of the workers making their clothes. 

Building on the demands of women garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia, the report outlines how Australian brands can support and uphold the rights of the women that make their clothes. ActionAid Australia is calling on Australian fashion brands to provide greater supply chain transparency, to publicly commitment to paying all workers in their supply chain a living wage and to ensure all suppliers uphold workers’ rights. 

“Terminated workers from the Violet Apparel factory, which made clothes for global brands like Nike, were some of the most impacted workers by the pandemic.” says Sopheary Ou, Campaigns Coordinator, ActionAid Cambodia, “More than a year after losing their jobs, workers are still fighting for severance payments and other benefits owed but Nike is refusing to take responsibility for the workers making its clothes. Many terminated workers have had to take on additional debt to cover basic household costs like food and rent. Nike must step in and resolve this dispute and ensure that workers’ rights are upheld across its supply chain”. 

“The pandemic has raised new challenges for the rights of women and girls across Bangladesh. Many women garment workers reported an increase in conflict and domestic violence within the home,” says Morium Nesa, Women’s Rights Manager, ActionAid Bangladesh, “Survey results also pointed to an increasing risk of early marriage, with workers reporting that the economic devastation of the pandemic and pressure from extended family members was putting their daughters more at risk. There is an urgent need for the government and fashion brands to support garment workers to avoid the economic costs of the pandemic further impacting gender equality and women’s rights”. 

The full report can be accessed here.  

For more information and interviews with ActionAid spokespeople, please contact: Milly Atkinson Handley, ActionAid Australia’s Communications Officer on +61 (0)414 860238 or [email protected]