Garment factory in 2020

Impact of COVID-19 on Decent Work

Wage Digitization Digest

The Wage Digitization Digest was a monthly desk-based intelligence report produced by Synergos from May 2020 - June 2021 that sourced from English-language media spanning a monthly timeframe specified in the digest. The report covered the impact on workers during Covid-19, in garment and agricultural value chains, with a focus on digital wages, gender equity, and worker wellbeing across Bangladesh, Ethiopia, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tanzania and Uganda.

This digest was prepared for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a component of ongoing dialogue on the importance of wage digitization to accelerate financial inclusion and promote women’s economic empowerment. The findings and conclusions contained within are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect positions or policies of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

You can learn more about responsible wage digitization by visiting: ILO Global Centre on Digital Wages for Decent WorkBSR HERProjectBetter than Cash Alliance (BtCA)and Microfinance Opportunities (MFO).

Synergos, which provides strategic counsel, research, and insights for socially-minded organizations. If you would like to be added to the mailing list, please contact All information is public and can be forwarded.



Over the past year, we have seen the devastation of global value chains. Due to economic global downturns, overall trade and consumer trends have declined and placed many jobs at risk. Low-income households are at greater risk of falling further below the poverty line, many being outside of current government social protections.

The World Bank estimates that the Covid-19 pandemic pushed an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme poverty in 2020 (1.4% of the global population), with the total rising to as many as 150 million by 2021 (World Bank).

In the Asia-Pacific region alone, 81 million jobs were lost, disproportionately impacting women and youth in manufacturing and services jobs (ILO).

Further, the Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated issues in labor and worker rights across all sectors. Loss of business revenue and workplace closures has resulted in forced, and sometimes targeted, layoffs that did not always follow legal procedures. Workers were left with unpaid wages and sudden unemployment with little explanation. The ILO estimates working hours lost in 2020 were equivalent to 255 million full-time jobs, leading to $3.7 trillion in lost labor income (ILO).

We began this digest to provide a market analysis and build a body of research from a worker perspective on the events of 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic in two of the largest global employers of low-income households globally, manufacturing and agriculture. 

All Issues

Issue 15: May 1-May 31, 2021

Issue 14: Apr 1-Apr 30, 2021

Issue 13: Mar 1-Mar 31, 2021

Issue 12: Jan 29-Feb 28, 2021

Issue 11: Jan 1-Jan 28, 2021

Issue 10: Dec 1-Dec 30, 2020

Issue 09: Oct 28-Nov 30, 2020

Issue 08: Sep 29-Oct 27, 2020

Issue 07: Aug 29-Sep 28, 2020

Issue 06: Aug 1-Aug 28 2020

Issue 05: Jul 15-Jul 31, 2020

Issue 04: Jul 1-Jul 14 2020

Issue 03: Jun 15-Jun 31 2020

Issue 02: Jun 1-Jun 14 2020

Issue 01: May 1-May 31 2020

About Wage Digitization

Wage digitization is the process of transitioning cash salary payments into digital salary payments a worker can receive in a mobile money or bank account. Digital wages are able to provide significant benefits to both employers and employees, such as increased transparency, minimized risk for error, and greater savings.

Why is this important? Globally, about 1.7 billion adults remain unbanked — without an account at a financial institution or through a mobile money provider. Out of those people, 230 million people receive private sector wage payments in cashThis includes 100 million people from the poorest 40% of households, and 80 million women (2017 Findex, World Bank). Wage digitization motivates people to register for a financial account, introducing and onboarding them into the greater financial services ecosystem.

Deepening Financial Inclusion: Wage digitization serves as a catalyst to increase financial inclusion. It is evidenced in Bangladesh, where account ownership rose almost 20 percentage points, from 31% in 2014 to 50% in 2017. Close to 2 million adults opened their first account to collect wage payments from a private sector employer during this time (2017 Findex, World Bank).

Leading to Greater DFS Usage: Wage digitization serves as a foundational building block to increase both access to financial services and its usage.  At the outset, wage digitization motivates workers to open bank accounts to collect wage payments. Once registered, usage of other financial services, such as remittances tends to increaseHigher usage of Digital Financial Services (DFS) amongst poor households is an important tool in improving financial health and adding resilience to financial shocks. A UK Aid funded study concluded that digital wages increase worker’s savings, ability to cope with unanticipated shocks, and access to additional digital financial services—higher DFS usage (International Growth Centre).

Increasing Women’s Empowerment and Labor Force Participation: Preliminary data on digital wages shows signs of enabling greater economic empowerment for women as it provides them with the transparency and tools for better financial management, long-term savings, and a stronger negotiating stance in household financial matters. As a result, digital wages can also encourage an increase in women’s labor participation (2018 InterMedia, BSR HERproject).There is also preliminary evidence collected by the HIGG index that factories that adopt digital wages for the long-term promote better working conditions and protections (Better than Cash Alliance).

Importance of Responsible, Gender Intentional Digitization: Wage digitization must be done responsibly and with a gender intentional lens to enable the potential social and economical benefits. Tailored onboarding support is crucial for effective access, and therefore should be included in program design and implementation. For example: women workers may rely on male heads of households for account access. Furthermore, the financial services ecosystem needs to take into account the financial transactions of low-income households, particularly of women, and continue to work with the public sector to relieve major pain points for workers (Women’s World Banking).


Resources on wage digitization impacts:

1. World Bank Report: “Learning to Navigate a New Financial Technology, Evidence from Payroll Accounts,” Emily Breza, Martin Kanz, Leora Klapper

2. BSR HERproject Report: HERfinance Wage Digitization in Bangladesh - Applying a Gender Lens

3. Financial Inclusion Insights Program: Country Reports

4. MicroFinance Opportunities: Garment Worker Diaries Reports

5. Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion: Advancing Women's Digital Financial Inclusion

6. International Growth Centre: The Real Effects of Electronic Wage Payments  

Ongoing Wage Digitization Efforts

The International Labor Organization's Global Centre on Digital Wages for Decent Work

The ILO has established a Global Centre on Digital Wages for Decent Work to accelerate the transition from cash to responsible digital wage payments for the benefits of workers, employers and governments in every country and economic sector. The Global Centre is structured around three components: pilot country interventions, research and knowledge management, and advocacy. It also offers a cooperation and collaboration platform to promote the adoption of good practices and standards.

Contact the Global Centre at to join our community and stay updated on wage digitization.  


Microfinance Opportunities' Garment Worker Diaries

Microfinance Opportunities is a global non-profit committed to understanding the economic realities of low-income and marginalized people. By describing and analyzing these realities, MFO informs the policies and practices of government, the private sector, multilateral organizations, civil society, and low-income and marginalized people themselves. MFO does this through the collection, analysis, and visualization of data, and the dissemination of the results through interactive and engaging materials and education efforts.

With the continued support of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation MFO will continue to collect Diaries data from 1,300 workers at least until the end of March 2021. This work began in July 2018 (with support from the Laudes Foundation), and we have been talking to the full sample of workers since January 2019.

Increasingly stakeholders value the data that comes out of the GWD, particularly those related to digital payments and the impact of COVID19 in the lives of workers. SANEM, MFO’s partner in this project, has been instrumental in ensuring that stakeholders in Bangladesh are informed of the data coming out of the Diaries. Recently the GWD received extensive coverage in the major Bangladeshi media outlets of our data on the impact of the recent Covid-19 lockdown on workers and their ongoing struggle to get vaccinated.

But stakeholders have also become more actively engaged in formulating the questions asked and working with MFO and SANEM to extend their work to cover factories that are of particular interest to them. In essence, the GWD has evolved into a channel of communication between workers and other stakeholders. Two major brands have engaged MFO to collect data from workers in factories that supply them, and other stakeholders have leveraged our on-going weekly interviews with workers to ask questions that are important to them.

MFO is looking to expand the GWD beyond Bangladesh. We are putting together plans to expand into Pakistan, where workers’ voice and visibility is far lower than in Bangladesh. Our plans also include putting the GWD on a long-term sustainable footing through a subscription financing model. In this new model, we would still make the data available to all stakeholders through our dashboard and the sharing of the raw data.


BSR's HERproject

Bangladesh: Over the past five years BSR’s HERproject has proven to be an effective means to support the garment sector to transition to digital payroll, supporting 64 factories in Bangladesh to digitize their payroll, and leading to over 150,000 workers (majority female) to be paid digitally, creating quantifiable benefits for both employers and workers.   HERproject is also supporting the scale up of sustainable wage digitization that considers the needs of female workers through a Digital Wages Capacity Building Model. This model identifies the pathways and organizations which can support managers and workers to accept and benefit from wage digitization, including financial service providers, global buyers, workplace program providers, unions and local NGO’s. HERproject works closely with these organizations to develop and pilot their wage digitization training programs, with a focus on female workers. Pilots are currently taking place in 10 garment factories with 32,155 workers (63% female). The Model findings and insights will be published later in 2021 and shared through a webinar.   

India: BSR’s HERproject has piloted a strengthened HERfinance program in India, to support workers, especially women to use and benefit from their payroll accounts, and financial services, as well as improve their financial health.   This was piloted in 4 factories in Delhi/Bangalore, with 2616 workers (46% female) and results will be published in September and shared through a webinar.   Initial findings are positive and show increased confidence to access and use financial services, including using ATM’s, mobile money accounts, savings accounts and health insurance by both men and women.  For example Chandini, a 27 year old female garment worker in the Delhi region was too nervous to use an ATM before the training, which she now uses with confidence.  She’s opened a savings account, and saves 500 Rs a month, and has installed the BHIM mobile money app on her phone so she can transfer money from her payroll account into her savings account easily.

Open Source Digital Wages Tools for Managers and Workers: HERproject offers a series of free digital wages and financial health training resources to support managers and workers, which are readily available onlineThis includes:

  • Digital Wages Toolkit for Managers – sets out best practice and guidance for managers to transition towards digital payroll in a responsible and efficient manner. Available online in English, Bangla, Khmer, Mandarin and Arabic. For offline access, can be downloaded from Google Playstore.
  • HERfinance Posters – a set of six posters with information about financial services and financial management.   Available in Bangla, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Khmer and Arabic.   Vietnamese and Gujarati in development.  
  • Digital Wages Tech Learning Tool for Workers - developed by HERproject in collaboration with QuizRR, uses engaging films, quizzes, and animation to support workers to increase their knowledge of financial services, improve financial health and build their digital literacy.  Available in Bangla, Khmer and Arabic.   Vietnamese in development.
  • HERproject Youtube Channel - Digital Wages videos and animation, developed with QuizRR, can be used during training, or shown on their own – such as in factory canteens.   Playlists available in Bangla, Khmer, and ArabicVietnamese in development.
  • HERfinance Audio message – a song that can be played on the PA about using financial services – available in Bangla.

HERproject is also publishing practical guides for global buyers, workplace program providers and financial service providers to support wage digitization.  These will be available later in 2021. 

For more information please contact Ella Moffat, HERfinance Manager–


Better Than Cash Alliance

Based at the United Nations, the Better Than Cash Alliance is a partnership of governments, companies, and international organizations that accelerates the transition from cash to responsible digital payments to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.”


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[video] Launch of the Pan-African Peer Exchange Learning: Digitizing Government Payments amid COVID-19

[video] How Digitization of Rwanda’s Tax Systems is Countering Fiscal Spending

[video] Digital Payments in the Ebola Response: Lessons for the COVID-19 Crisis