Studies

The Welfare Consequences of Employer Responses to COVID-19 in Export Manufacturing in Low-income Countries

The study aims to find out how garment-sector workers are responding to low-cost workplace efforts as face masks, gloves, and separating workstations, that are being implemented to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It draws from two separate surveys, the first one having 60 garment workers and the second one having a random sample of 4800 garment workers who will be surveyed over four rounds. The hypothesis of this study is that workers in factories that keep operating stay healthier than workers whose factories stop. 

Researchers: Khandker Wahedur Rahman; Md. Raied Arman; Md. Shakil Ahmed; Ayesha Ahmed; Laura Boudreau; Rachel Heath

Partners: University of Washington and Columbia University

Timeline: 2020-2022

Status: Ongoing

Contact: Khandaker Wahedur Rahman; wahedur.rahman@bracu.ac.bd

Context

While social distancing has been well-established as a universal means to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in high-income countries, the willingness and ability to comply with this in low-income countries is much lower. Because of constraints such as limited opportunities to work from home as more occupations require physical and manual work and higher cost of lost income in impoverished settings, these countries instead opted for lower-cost efforts such as face masks, gloves, and separating workstations with the hope of minimizing both the infection and mortality rates and economic hardship. Concurrently, export manufacturing firms are facing reduced income due to cancelled orders, leading up to their failure to pay workers’ wages. Bangladesh is facing a similar context, and it is pertinent to examine the responses of the workers to these new workstation rules to devise relevant and effective policy responses to COVID-19. To address this, this study develops and implements a mobile phone-based network sampling strategy to quickly obtain a representative sample of garment workers in Bangladesh, providing critical insights about COVID-19 responses in their workplace and the effects on workers. 

Objectives 

The study aims to provide critical insights about COVID-19 responses in the workers’ workplace and the effects on workers, and learn more about factory shutdowns, rate of safety measures in factories that are operating, late payments, and workers’ health and economic situation more broadly. Furthermore, it aims to identify random variation in factory shutdowns (such as nearby worker protests, large cancelled orders, and the factory’s ability to produce personal protective equipment), to estimate causal effects of factory shutdowns on worker’s health and overall welfare. 

The main hypothesis of the study is “Workers in factories that keep operating stay healthier than workers whose factories stop”. Besides, differential effects on income, consumption, and health by gender will be determined.

This study is relevant to SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-Being), particularly to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.

Methodology 

The study involves two separate surveys, with the first one having a sample of 60 garment workers with whom we corresponded over the phone, but who also responded to an in-person survey in January 2020. They will be recruited using a right-hand sampling rule to obtain a representative sample of the neighbourhood. Contact information of three randomly selected contacts will be asked from the initial sample, whom we will contact for a further set of randomised referrals until we reach the desired sample of 1200 workers. To ensure the representativeness of the data, we will compare its demographics with the garments workers data from the Labour Force Survey of Bangladesh. 

For the other survey, we will take a random sample of 4800 garment workers from factories of “Ananta” group, who will be surveyed over four rounds. An ANCOVA analysis will be used. 

Findings & Recommendations

Study ongoing

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