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Better nutrition for better productivity and efficiency in the RMG sector

23rd September, 2020

Global evidence suggests that healthier diets boost the immune system and overall wellbeing of individuals, but access to healthy diets is also good for business, raising the productivity, morale and energy of employees [1] and bringing in multiple benefits for companies [2,3]. For the Readymade Garments (RMG) industries of Bangladesh, where 77% [4] of workers suffer from anaemia due to their poor dietary habits, improving nutrition is a win-win solution to support workers and improve business productivity and efficiency. Anaemia causes losses in productivity which in turn leads to direct losses in line level performance, sickness and absenteeism [5]. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the RMG workers are more vulnerable than ever because of their weakened immune system which is exacerbated by less than optimal dietary choices.

The SUN Business Network (SBN) Bangladesh organised a webinar on 15th September 2020 to discuss the nutritional challenges that RMG workers are facing and the actions that can be taken in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh and all relevant actors. The webinar builds on the work of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), co-convenor of SBN alongside the UN World Food Programme (WFP), which has been active in generating evidence and contributing to policy advocacy with partners for better approaches to workforce nutrition programmes. For example, the Strengthening Workers Access to Pertinent Nutrition Opportunities (SWAPNO) is a scalable and replicable factory owned model that is now being implemented in 20 RMG factories. In addition to the Government of Bangladesh, GAIN has been working alongside partners such as UNICEF, Nutrition International (NI), WFP, WHO, CARE, SNV, Helen Keller International (HKI) and others to implement nutrition interventions in the RMG industry.

The webinar on  ‘recommendations for policy actions and efforts for healthier diets for RMG workers’ was chaired by Dr. S M Mustafizur Rahman, the Line Director of the National Nutrition Services (NNS)/Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW). Mr. K.M. Abdus Salam, Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) graced the webinar as the Chief Guest.

 

The Secretary of MoLE emphasised the importance of the RMG industry in Bangladesh and the Government of Bangladesh’s commitments to support  the sustainability and growth of the RMG Sector. As part of the commitments, the Government Bangladesh has pledged  to ensure the health and wellbeing of the RMG workers, and recognises the vital role nutritionplays in this regard.  The Secretary of MoLE noted that collective action of the RMG factory owners, buyers, regulatory authorities and development partners is required to ensure that workers get access to nutritious and safe food, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Secretary of MoLE applauded the RMG workers for their hard work and commitments in taking the country’s economy forward.

Mr. Hanifur Rahman Lotus joined the webinar as the Chair of the Health Standing Committee of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). Mr. Lotus  provided a concise summary of the food systems within which the RMG industries interact, making links to  the health and wellbeing of the workers. He also highlighted the importance of supporting mothers at work through breastfeeding and childcare services. In addition, he highlighted the importance of food safety  and showed his commitment to support all initiatives linked to the  health and wellbeing of workers.  He emphasised that it is important to understand the  busy lifestyle of the RMG workers and their poor choice of diet is often driven by lack of affordability.

Dr. Md. Mostafizur Rahman, Joint Inspector General of the Department of Inspection of Factories & Establishment (DIFE), MOLE highlighted the critical role of the DIFE inspector to ensure the health and safety of the RMG workers, as well as providing canteen and WASH facilities. The DIFE inspectors are being trained in food safety, food preparation hygiene  and nutrition with support from the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). The DIFE inspector will build the capacity of the factory management in integrating nutrition sensitive knowledge and facilities for workers. Sirajul Islam Rony, President, Bangladesh National Garments Workers Employees League (BNGWEL) echoed this and sreinforced the importance of WASH practices and other nutrition sensitive practices, emphasising that the workers, owners and buyers should all be up to date with current laws and guidelines.

Mr. Syful Alam Mallick, Compliance Manager-South Asia, Auchan International highlighted that workforce nutrition programmes should be expanded through different Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) opportunities led by factories, buyers, foundations and other stakeholders. Dr. Sabiha Sultana, Senior Technical Specialist, GAIN highlighted the coordinated efforts of the Government led by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and Ministry of Labour and Employment (MoLE) to generate nutritional guidelines for the RMG industry with the support of GAIN. Dr. Sabiha also highlighted SBN’s efforts in influencing the SMEs around the RMG industries and developing demonstrable business models to ensure safe and nutritious food. The food solutions that are being developed are convenient, affordable and cater to the taste and preference of the workers.

Dr. S M Mustafizur Rahman in his closing remark highlighted the ground-breaking approach of the Second National Plan of Action on Nutrition (NPAN2) to bring together Government, UN, INGOs, academia and private sector under a comprehensive plan to ensure safe and nutritious food for the entire population including RMG workers. He also highlighted that maternal and child nutrition should receive extensive support to ensure nutrition during the first 1000 days. He urged the Garment owners to facilitate healthier diets for RMG workers and substitute widely available unhealthy foods with vegetables and fruits for their factory workers.

Based on the discussions and recommendations presented during the webinar, SBN Bangladesh is in the process of co-designing products and services with SMEs for facilitating access to safe and nutritious food that is both affordable and appealing for RMG workers. In addition, SBN Bangladesh is conducting a mapping exercise to identify nutrition sensitive workforce nutrition programmes and is coordinating with government (including DIFE, Ministry of Labour and Employment, IPHN and Bangladesh National Nutrition Council), civil society, UN agencies and the private sector to prioritise and design workforce nutrition programmes.

GAIN, Eat Well Global and the SUN Business Network have developed a Nutrition at Work Handbook to support employers and businesses looking to provide healthy meals and snacks to their employees. The handbook provides a step-by-step guide to help employers get started.

 

References:

[1] Stringer, L. (2016). The Healthy Workplace: How to Improve the Well-Being of Your Employees—and Boost Your Company’s Bottom Line. Amacom.

[2] Jensen, J. D., Mørkbak, M. R., & Nordström, J. (2012). Economic costs and benefits of promoting healthy takeaway meals at workplace canteens. Journal of Benefit-Cost Analysis3(4), 1-27.

[3] Burton, J., & World Health Organization. (2010). WHO Healthy workplace framework and model: Background and supporting literature and practices. World Health Organization.

[4] Khatun, T., Alamin, A., Saleh, F., Hossain, M., Hoque, A., & Ali, L. (2013). Anemia among garment factory workers in Bangladesh. Middle-East Journal of Scientific Research16(4), 502-7.

[5] Hossain, M., Islam, Z., Sultana, S., Rahman, A. S., Hotz, C., Haque, M., … & Ahmed, T. (2019). Effectiveness of workplace nutrition programs on anemia status among female readymade garment workers in Bangladesh: a program evaluation. Nutrients, 11(6), 1259.

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