For nearly a year, A-ya spent up to 10 hours a day at Trax Apparel in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, where she stitched sportswear for brands such as Adidas for $300 a month. Soon after Covid-19 hit the shores of the Southeast Asian country, the company’s once-humming production lines suddenly ground to a halt. In April 2020, she was sent home. Two months after she was furloughed, A-ya was dismissed.
A-ya, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, received her final wages plus $80 in suspension support from the Cambodian government — but not the severance payment she was legally owed. Without savings to help cushion the fall, she has bounced from temp position to temp position, unable to send money to her family and barely making ends meet herself.
“I’ve had to reduce my food expenses and cut down on electricity use,” A-ya says through a translator, adding that she regularly misses meals and goes hungry. “I eat only rice with a little bit of other food, but no sweets or fruit.” Her elderly parents, who rely on her for support, now skip breakfast, eat less for lunch, and frequently forgo meat.
More than 10,000 miles away in Haiti, Marline has struggled to feed her three children, the youngest of whom is 2, since last summer, when she was fired from Sewing International (a clothing producer for brands such as Gildan) after protesting what she described as employer wage theft. The pandemic had already hit the Caribbean in full force by then, and Marline, whose last name is also being withheld for privacy reasons, saw her monthly salary plunge from 15,000 Haitian gourdes (around $205 in US dollars) to 5,000 gourdes ($68 USD) as the factory sharply curtailed work hours due to slashed orders.
Marline hasn’t been able to find another job, and she’s already burned through what little savings and government assistance she had. Milk is now a luxury, and meat and fish have proven challenging to procure. “We are living day to day to survive,” she says.