Healthy meals is a dream come true for garment workers in Bangladesh

Healthy meals is a dream come true for garment workers in Bangladesh

Despite the size and global dominance of the ready-made garment industry in Bangladesh (RMG), which claims a global market share of 6.8% and is the second largest exporter after China, studies have found that the South Asian country has one of the lowest rates of productivity per capita. world wide operator. Among the main causes identified for the inefficiency of workers is inadequate nutrition, particularly among women, whose production is jeopardized by the impact of traditional unpaid family responsibilities.

About 2.5 million women – who make up 60% of RMG’s workforce – play an important role in the performance of a sector that drives 84% ​​of total exports and up to 20% of GDP. UNICEF It is estimated that “the estimated 3,500 export-oriented factories of industry are believed to directly or indirectly support the livelihoods of more than 25 million people, particularly women and children.”

Three years ago, garment worker Sadka Tun Nessa and her younger sister migrated to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, from their home in Satkhira, a southwestern district about five hours away, in search of a better life for themselves and their five. family.

When they got to town, Sadiq and her sister were no different from many of their peers, often skipping breakfast, and often waiting until the afternoon for a carbohydrate-rich meal – their first meal of the day. Their intake of micronutrients and protein was poor.

The sisters soon learned to sew and were employed by a large garment factory in Damray, about an hour outside the city.

Snowtex Outerwear Limited, where Sadika and her sister operate, manufactures and supplies apparel and fashion products to multinational corporations, with well-known names such as Columbia Sportswear, North Face, Timberland and Mango dependent on the output of a female-dominated workforce.

In the highly competitive global apparel sector, productivity can be a deciding factor between winners and losers. Optimum performance of RMG workers is required.

But as the workload grows, a friend describes how she found it difficult to maintain the energy required to be as productive as the job required.

“I was very tired, weak, and nauseated,” she says. She soon learned she was anemic – and she wasn’t alone.

According to the National Nutrition Services of Bangladesh, anemia – a health condition characterized by low levels of hemoglobin as the blood contains fewer red blood cells – is getting worse over time among the country’s female population. The trend was most severe among female garment workers, with an estimated 77% of them being anemic – much higher than female nationals. Spread of 41.8%.

Anemia is associated with fatigue, decreased physical activity, impaired cognitive abilities, and decreased work productivity, often caused by inadequate nutrition.

according to Global Burden of Disease SurveyMalnutrition in Bangladesh is the single most important driver of death and disability combined. Nutritional anemia, as well as deficiency of zinc, iron and iodine are the most prevalent micronutrient problems in the population.

During the pandemic, a Bangladeshi NGO, Research Evaluation and Development Initiative (READI) joined the Swiss NGO, Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (earn), VF . company And the Snowtex Outerwear Limitedto implement a workforce nutrition project to help overcome nutritional challenges among plant workers at Snowtex.

The program is called Promoting Workers’ Access to Nutrition Related Opportunities or SwapnoBengali word meaning Dream. Not just a play on words, the project could turn into a dream come true and a potential life saver for the employees at the garment factory.

At the start of the program, Siddiqa was among a handful of employees selected to be influencers or champions who would educate their co-workers about proper dietary practices. They are trained in basic nutrition, diets, diversified foods, and hygiene.

Pushti in Bengali is a word that means nourishment or food. Bondo means friend. Due to time constraints during factory working hours, these project champions were assigned to lead the SWAPNO project.

As Pushti Bundo, Siddiqa has become a food model to be followed among her colleagues, peers and family. It continues to play a major role in improving the nutritional knowledge of Snowtex garment workers, which has led to improvements in their overall health and productivity, which has also had positive spillover effects at the household level.

These days, a friend – a devout Muslim – gets up at 5 am for the dawn prayer, eats a healthy breakfast and makes her way to the garment factory, where she works as a quality assurance officer. She has become an advocate of healthy eating behaviors and incorporating them into her life, both at home and at work. She now eats three meals a day and encourages her co-workers to do the same.

Snowtex’s sewing floor features a combination of modular and assembly line systems operated by thousands of comfortable, diligent and attentive employees. Due to a variety of measures taken by management, morale is high and the attrition rate is less than 5%. When I met a friend, she was busy searching a down jacket and she is active and in good spirits. She quickly finishes her work before taking a break for lunch.

Snowtex’s dining room is just as impressive as the floor of a sewing room – albeit more social. Thousands of people – from the youngest to the most senior staff – are collectively fed the same high-quality, nutritious and safe meals ensured by the on-site food lab, in a spacious dining space with open seating.

I watch workers pick from huge barrels of fresh food made with highly nutritious and fortified ingredients including vegetables, legumes, fish, meat, eggs, fortified rice, fortified vitamin A food oil and iodized salt – ensuring they have enough energy to do their jobs efficiently while supporting optimal health.

Sadiqah told me she always looks forward to her healthy lunch and enjoys it without slowing her down.

She says she has learned to reduce carbohydrates in her meals and increase the amount of fish and vegetables she eats. She makes sure to include a source of Vitamin C in her lunch and follows up her meal with a folic acid (IFA) tablet which is provided as a service by the government which is easily made available to all employees by GAIN.

“We feel it is our duty to ensure the healthy lives of our workers,” says SM Khaled, Snowtex’s managing director. “That’s why we came up with a plan to provide a high-quality lunch. If they eat healthy, they keep fit, which serves the workers and the company.”

There is a large evidence base to support the hypothesis that anemia negatively affects occupational performance, while intervention with iron can have a positive effect on worker productivity. According to an independent study commissioned by GAIN, the entire package of interventions developed under the SWAPNO project has the potential to improve anemia rates by up to 32%.

A healthy investment in plants like Snowtex produces profits in the form of enhanced productivity, better quality products, decreased sick leave, and improved employee morale.

“I may not make a lot of money, but now I know how to keep her healthy,” says a friend, sharing some of the ways the Swabno Project has changed her eating habits and thus her life.

“I always include seasonal fruit in my shopping list…I know how much of each food item I should buy and eat…I try to educate my family on how to live a better life…that to me is invaluable.”

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