Salma Akhter first heard about the virus at the textile factory where she worked. She was sitting at her machine on the second floor, sewing zippers onto pants. „Wash your hands with soap,“ she remembers one of her supervisors announcing over a loudspeaker. „A virus from China has arrived in Bangladesh.“
Soon the workers received additional warnings. Don’t take off your masks while at the factory, Akhter and the others were told. They were also sprayed with disinfectant before their shifts. But it wasn’t until March 26 that the 24-year-old Akhter felt the consequences of the pandemic first-hand when her factory closed down. A few weeks later, she was informed via text message that she had been laid off.
She is sitting on her bed in her two-room apartment, a face mask with a floral pattern hanging from her headscarf. She has almost no savings. „How are we supposed to survive now?“ she asks. „I have to pay my rent. We have to eat.“
Akhter lives in Gazipur, an industrial city with more than a million inhabitants and hundreds of textile factories. Tens of thousands of seamstresses work here, sewing wares for companies around the world, including in Germany. Their low salaries would never pass muster in Europe.
For many years, Bangladesh lived from the promises of globalization in its simplest form: Rich countries had access to cheap goods while people in poor countries received an income in return. But ever since the arrival of the coronavirus, this arrangement has been put on ice.
Appeared in SPIEGEL International
Work with: Laura Höflinger and Fabeha Monir (Photos and Translation)
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