Steelworkers Humanity Fund Provides $50,000 to Support Bangladeshi Garment Workers Affected by COVID-19

TORONTO – The Steelworkers Humanity Fund is contributing $50,000 to the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity in emergency relief for garment sector workers put out of work by the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the novel coronavirus spreads across the globe, garment retailers and fashion brands have cancelled orders and refused to pay for orders of clothes already produced or in production. As a result, supplier factories are unable to pay workers’ salaries, affecting millions in this predominantly female workforce.

“Paid poverty wages for years, the women who make our clothes have no financial savings to draw on. Without work or income, they are now at risk of slipping into abject poverty,” said Ken Neumann, Canadian Director of the United Steelworkers and President of the Steelworkers Humanity Fund.

“The Humanity Fund contribution will make a huge difference in the lives of 750 families who will receive food packages and medical kits from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity. But it is not nearly enough. Canadian brands and the government of Canada must also step up,” Neumann said.

“In this crisis, thousands and thousands of women in the garment sector will have no income and will not eat. We are grateful for this support from Canadian Steelworkers. Now the help and attention of the Canadian government and Canadian brands and retailers is urgently needed,” said Kalpona Akter, Director of the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, a long-time Humanity Fund partner.

Today marks the 7th anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which killed 1,132 people and injured more than 2,500. On this occasion, the United Steelworkers is joining with other Canadian unions and civil society organizations concerned with the impact of COVID-19 on workers around the world to release the statement, “Protect the women who make our clothes: Canada’s unions and civil society organizations call for action.”

“Canadian brands and retailers may be hurting, but there are things they can and should do today that will help blunt the worst impacts of COVID-19 on women working in their supply chain, both immediately and in the long run,” says Neumann.

The Steelworkers Humanity Fund is a registered charitable organization that promotes respect for human rights and contributes to development projects and emergency aid in developing countries, as well as supporting Canadian communities in crisis. United Steelworkers members contribute to the fund through clauses negotiated into collective agreements. In some cases employers make matching contributions.

The Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity has been at the forefront of the struggle for workers’ safety, workers’ rights and gender-based violence in Bangladesh. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Bangladesh Center staff have been working flat out to ensure garment workers’ safety and incomes are protected.


For further information:

Ken Neumann, President, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-544-5951
Doug Olthuis, Executive Director, Steelworkers Humanity Fund, 416-859-9953, dolthuis@usw.ca
Bob Gallagher, USW Communications, 416-434-2221, bgallagher@usw.ca

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