Protecting Child Workers During the Pandemic
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the production of low-cost fashion in much of the world came to a standstill, leaving many garment workers in the Global South without an income. In Bangladesh and elsewhere, this has left child workers more vulnerable to exploitation than ever.
DHAKA – It is already apparent that the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be uneven, with poorer countries bearing the brunt of the fallout. This includes the 1.2 million children in Bangladesh who are engaged in the harshest forms of child labor. In such uncertain times, these children – and millions of others elsewhere – are even more vulnerable to exploitative and hazardous work.
The reason is simple. When major global retail outlets canceled orders due to lockdown-related cutbacks, the production of low-cost fashion in much of the world came to a standstill, leaving many garment workers in the Global South without an income. Since March, Bangladesh’s exports of leather goods have declined by 22%. The country’s footwear-manufacturing industry, the world’s eighth largest, has also been affected, with exports down by 50% since the pandemic began.
With leather-goods producers facing canceled orders and restrictions to slow the transmission of COVID-19, the unregulated informal sector has become much more competitive, with factory owners targeting children as cheap labor. In the informal leather sector, children often work long hours for little or no pay, frequently doing work that is physically and psychologically harmful and dangerous jobs during the production process. But despite the risks, most children rely on such employment to support themselves and their families.