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Boarding the Digital Lifeboat

In our first Garment Worker Diaries blog for 2021, Boarding the Digital Lifeboat, we focus on the support, and perceived support, that garment workers in Bangladesh received last year as their wages were digitized. In the Spring of 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic convinced the Bangladeshi government to send out monetary assistance payments to garment-producing factories, which would be passed on to workers. Among other factors, social distancing requirements obliged that these payments be paid out digitally, keeping workers from having to stand in line in close-quartered factories to receive cash payments. The Spring of 2020 would have marked the first time most of these workers received a digital wage instead of cash.

Businesses and governments can do a lot to ease that transition, and to instill trust in new processes. Our data suggest that there were support systems in place, but that perhaps the systems were not comprehensive enough to reach all workers; or, that the systems were not convincing enough to win the buy-in from all workers.

In a time when further government support for the garment industry (paid out digitally) may or may not be needed, there are important lessons to learn here about how factory managers and government officials can ensure that workers both acknowledge the assistance they are receiving, and are able to feel empowered to take part in a new way of life.

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