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Bridging the gap between starving garment workers and wasted clothes

  • Published at 01:51 pm July 12th, 2020

Multi-retailer app MallZee and SAJIDA Foundation work together to support Bangladeshi garment workers

The garment industry of Bangladesh has been the key export division and a main source of foreign exchange for the last 25 years. At present, the country generates about $5 billion worth of products each year by exporting garment. The industry provides employment to about three million workers, of whom 90% are women.

According to BGMEA, more than $3 billion worth of garment sector order has either been cancelled or suspended, ever since Europe went into lockdown, which will impact the livelihoods of over two million workers.

Muhymin Chowdhury, head of challenge fund and fundraising at a not for profit health organization SAJIDA Foundation, said: "Cancelled orders have affected over 1,000 factories. A recent study found that 47% of these workers now have no income.”

MallZee, a UK based online clothing retailer approached SAJIDA Foundation to understand how garment factories and workers can be supported during this crisis. During this discussion, the idea of ‘Lost Stock’ was conceptualized.

Under the ‘Lost Stock’ initiative, MallZee is purchasing cancelled/suspended clothing orders from garment factories, packaging them and selling them to customer for GBP 35. SAJIDA Foundation will receive a portion of the sales proceeds which will be used to provide sustained support to affected garment workers. Each box will support a garment worker and their family in Bangladesh, providing food and hygiene requirements for a week. In partnership with the SAJIDA Foundation, Lost Stock is giving their profits straight to those worst affected by the pandemic. 

Discussing SAJIDA’s role in the initiative, Muhymin Chowdhury informed the Dhaka Tribune that their prime objectives include identifying garment factories with large stock of cancelled/suspended orders and connecting them with MallZee, and identifying garment factory workers whose livelihoods have been impacted and factory workers who have lost their jobs. SAJIDA will deploy a fleet of field officers and collect data from BGMEA to identify this population segment and develop food vouchers worth GBP 9.55. Each voucher can support a family of four to five, in order to purchase necessary essentials for one week. SAJIDA will provide four to eight vouchers to each worker. The foundation will also identify retailers (grocery, medicine, and fast moving consumer goods) with whom these vouchers can be exchanged for products. It is to be noted that income of these small stores have fallen up to 80% owing to the depressed demand in the local economy. Apart from all these, SAJIDA will also ensure strong monitoring at field level to guarantee smooth transfer of products to garment factory workers.

“Each Lost Stock box contains at least three clothing items from well known brands such as Topshop, Debenhams, C&A and more. The initiative has been successful so far. Over 94,000 boxes have been sold in the UK market alone. This will be expanded to Australia, USA and other countries soon. We aim to support to up to 100,000 individuals by the end of the year. The vouchers will provide them with short term relief and support their transition to new jobs, businesses, and other income generating activities,” said Muhymin.

SAJIDA Foundation has been one of the first responders to Covid-19 crisis in Bangladesh. They are running a dedicated 50 bed Covid-19 hospital in Narayanganj under an MOU with DGHS. The hospital is equipped with ICU, semi critical units, ventilator, dialysis machines and trained staff. Approximately Tk1.75 crore is spent every month to provide free treatment to Covid-19 patients. They also run another hospital in Keraniganj for general patients. The two hospitals have treated over 17,500 patients in the last two months. “We plan to set up additional Covid-19 treatment centre and will introduce critical at home service for Covid-19 patients. A set of remote healthcare solutions have been implemented to address general and mental health related issues,” he informed. 

Apart from this, in the last three months, SAJIDA Foundation has supported over 3.4 million people through agriculture value chain support, food and hygiene package distribution, PPE distribution, community awareness programs, and setup of portable hand washing devices. They have also launched research programs which will help them design livelihood and economic recovery programs targeting migrant workers, garment workers and small businesses. 

“The engagement with MallZee has been fruitful. It is pleasing to see a young corporate taking steps in order to make a real difference in this crisis. Such meaningful partnerships between responsible organizations are crucial to address the Covid-19 crisis,” said Muhymin.

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