Casualties of Fashion: How Garment Workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia are Wearing the Cost of COVID-19

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the fashion industry in early 2020, international brands were confronted with supply chain distributions and store closures, prompting brands to cancel and delay orders worth billions of dollars from factories in countries like Bangladesh and Cambodia.


The impact on the garment workers making the brands clothes was immense. It is estimated that one million garment workers were laid off or suspended in Bangladesh alone in March 2020. Even those that kept their jobs did not fare much better, as factory owners cut wages and hours, and the risk of catching COVID-19 whilst at work rose due to inadequate access to protective equipment.

In a new report, Casualties of Fashion: How garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia are wearing the cost of COVID-19, ActionAid Australia in partnership with ActionAid country offices in Bangladesh and Cambodia have highlighted the devastating impact of the pandemic on garment workers in both countries.

Through interviews with 218 garment workers, the research has revealed 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 include:

  • Most workers were earning well below the living wage before the pandemic hit
  • 13% of workers in Cambodia, of which 93% were from the Violet Apparel factory, and 36% in Bangladesh lost their jobs as a direct result of the pandemic – two-thirds of terminated workers didn’t receive any severance pay
  • Bangladesh: workers faced an average wage drop of 7.5%
  • Cambodia: on average terminated workers’ wages dropped by more than 25%
  • 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 loans 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.

ActionAid Executive Director Michelle Higelin said it is time for brands to uphold  the rights of the garment workers in their supply chain.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on garment workers around the world. With job cuts, wages slashed and rights at work under threat – garment workers have been pushed further into poverty, hunger and debt. Despite the hardship over the past two years, garment workers are continuing to advocate for better wages and decent working conditions. ActionAid Australia will continue to campaign to ensure garment workers are not left wearing the cost of the pandemic, amplifying the voices and demands of those on the frontlines of injustice. In solidarity with garment workers, we call on Australian brands to uphold workers’ rights across their supply chains and commit to paying all workers a living wage.”

ActionAid Australia is calling on Australian fashion brands to: 

  • Publish and maintain a complete list of supplier factories they source from
  • Publicly commit to delivering a living wage for all workers in their supply chain
  • Negotiate directly with unions on an enforceable agreement on wage assurance and a severance guarantee fund to ensure that all workers employed during the COVID-19 crisis receive their full salaries and/or severance payments.

Read the full report here.