H&M Foundation is initiating a long-term project, running over several years, to support women garment workers. Photo: CARE

H&M Foundation is initiating a long-term project, running over several years, to support women garment workers. Photo: CARE

H&M Foundation is to donate SEK12m (US$1.3m) to help young women and their families in and around Dhaka with emergency relief from the Covid-19 pandemic as part of a long-term project to support female garment workers in Bangladesh.

The non-profit will donate the funds to WaterAid, CARE, and Save the Children in a move it says will help some 76,000 women and their families in addition to reaching one million people with messages on Covid-19 and hygiene practices. 

Bangladesh has been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the 25 most vulnerable countries to be affected by the pandemic, with a high population density, poor infrastructure, weak health systems, and low awareness of basic preventive measures. As the coronavirus is rapidly spreading within the country some high-risk areas are currently in lockdown to maintain social distancing and flatten the curve.

The textile sector is one of the largest contributors to the country's GDP and the local and global effects of the pandemic had has a great impact on textile workers within the garment industry. At the same time, the use of automation and digital technology is making its way into the textile industry, also creating a great risk of unemployment for millions of Bangladeshis, the H&M Foundation says.

Women are particularly at risk, as they represent the majority of the total workforce within the garment industry and are often employed to execute the tasks which are highly susceptible to automation, it explains, adding "there is an urgent need to create a skilled female workforce to save jobs and create new job opportunities."

Its latest project, which will run over several years, aims to support female garment workers through these "excessive transitions", starting with their urgent needs connected to Covid-19. 

"We will directly support women and their families with for example cash assistance for food, medication and other necessities, provide Covid-19 awareness-raising and testing, hygiene materials and handwashing facilities. We hope to see more donors show their support in different ways," says Carola Tembe, programme manager at the H&M Foundation.

The non-profit is also supporting families where gender-based violence increases as an effect of the crisis, as well as specifically supporting disadvantaged children, focusing on child protection and child education.

To follow up, it says a holistic approach will be taken to involve important players from different sectors to achieve systemic, long-lasting change, equipping female garment workers in Bangladesh for a future where work is defined by automation and digitalisation.

H&M Foundation will, for example, be looking at upskilling, re-skilling, digital literacy efforts, and entrepreneurship. It will also be launching community programmes and utilising social innovation to solve challenges or spark new ideas relevant to female textile workers' employability.  

Earlier this week, Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said Covid-19 has had a "devastating impact" on the country's readymade garment (RMG) sector and expressed concern over the growing level of job losses on the economy.