Zar Chi Lwin pawned her only two gold bangles for US$140 when the owner of the factory in
Myanmar where she stitched winter coats for British retailer Next shut it down after orders dried up in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
She is one of hundreds of thousands of garment workers across Asia who have been laid off, according to labour rights campaign group the Workers Rights Consortium, and are now struggling to survive with little welfare support, mired in debt and in many cases reliant on food handouts.
“If I have a job and an income, I can pay for medical treatment for my mother,” 29-year-old Zarchi Lwin said from the home she shares with her 56-year-old mother, who has lung disease, in a shanty town on the outskirts of Yangon. “Now no income, no job,” she said, fighting back tears. “We don’t know what to do.”
Next temporarily closed all its stores in Britain in March because of the coronavirus. The company said in a statement it had only cancelled some orders and “endeavoured to be fair” to its suppliers. KGG, the factory where Zar Chi Lwin worked, did not respond to requests for comment.