Improving the nutrition of apparel workers can be one of the keys to the sustainability of Bangladesh's ready-made garments (RMG) industry.
A formal meal plan including wages which provide means of buying nutritious food and storing homemade food safely can significantly improve workers' morale; reduce absenteeism, and increase productivity.
Experts said this at the virtual workshop "Coordinated Strategy and Collaborative Action Plan for Workforce Nutrition" Thursday.
The event was organised by Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network (SBN) Bangladesh, a platform chaired by the Ministry of Industries and co-convened by Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and World Food Programme.
During the event, the findings from three studies on workforce nutrition, assessment of market systems around RMG factories and the value proposition for establishing fair price shops was disseminated.
One of the findings includes: Most factories do not have provision for paid breastfeeding breaks; the needs of breastfeeding mothers and their newborn children are not commonly prioritised.
It was also found that food items like eggs, noodles, and snacked potatoes are frequently consumed by female RMG workers. However, the small shops around the RMG factories sell a lot of counterfeit items that can pose a significant health risk to the workers.
Also, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) including catering companies, restaurants and bakeries need to be provided extensive support in food safety knowledge development and access to finance for purchasing the required machinery and equipment to ensure that the RMG workers have access to safe and nutritious food.
The studies also concluded that establishing a fair price shop can save 11-14% of RMG workers' monthly income, save two to three hours daily and provide access to affordable safe and nutritious food.
Health Services Division Additional Secretary Kazi Zebunnessa Begum attended the event as the chief guest, and Department of Labour Director-General Goutom Kumar chaired it.
GAIN Country Director Dr Rudaba Khondker, Md Humayun Kabir, joint secretary of the Ministry of Labour and Employment; Dr Al Amin Sarker, joint secretary of the Ministry of Industries, also spoke at the programme.
Dr Shaifun N Shimul, associate professor of the Institute of Health Economics at Dhaka University, presented one of the keynote papers.