Efforts aimed at ensuring improved nutrition for workers should be coordinated and made available for workers across all sectors, and not be limited to the Ready-Made Garments (RMG) industry or women in the workforce, experts recommended.
Highlighting the impact of adequate nourishment, including better health and higher productivity, they have suggested changes needed in the labour law and the coordinated implementation of better nutrition programmes at the factory level.
The roundtable talk where the recommendations were made was jointly organised by the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturer and Exporters Association (BKMEA), and Nutrition International, on Wednesday.
At the "National round table discussion on workplace nutrition in the RMG sector in Bangladesh", the BKMEA and Nutrition International shared findings and progress of the two-year-long 'Nutrition of Working Women' (NoWW) project, they jointly worked on.
Tuomo Poutiainen, country director of International Labour Organisation (ILO) praised various government and non-government programmes undertaken, aiming to improve the nutrition of workers.
"We are very happy to see these initiatives and we have also recently seen a national action plan approved by the govt," he said.
Tuomo, however, stressed that nutrient intervention programmes should be ongoing and be expanded to other sectors beyond the RMG sector.
Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of workers is the responsibility of all stakeholders, he said, adding that necessary changes to existing policies should be made in this regard.
State Minister of Planning, Dr Shamsul Alam, chief guest at the event, said the issue of nutrition has been emphasised in the government's eighth five-year-plan.
Urging the continued support of development partners, he called on factory owners for their active engagement in nutrition programs.
"We need a healthy labour force for better productivity," he added.
Saiqa Siraj, country director of Nutrition International, highlighted the success of the NoWW project, and pointed out that not only women, but male workers need access to nutrition as well.
Appreciating the cooperation and assistance of the government and development partners, including Canada, she hoped support would continue for more comprehensive work in the future.
Rudaba Khondker, country director of Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) said, "Our guideline should be better nutrition for better production. We should chalk out guidelines which are pragmatic and executable."
She also recommended an alliance with the Directorate of Labour (DoL), the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (Dife), and the Ministry of Labour and Employment.
"Everyone has to work together," she said.
Mohammad Hatem, executive president of BKMEA, said the nutrition program is one example of employers coming forward for the welfare of workers.
Participating in the discussion, factory owners and worker representatives shared their experiences in the implementation of the NoWW project over the last two years.
Showket Iqbal, general manager (HR) at Epyllion Group, said that after providing nutritional training and free nutrient supplementation among workers, both their attendance and performance improved significantly.
"They took less leave time off, and displayed better enthusiasm," he added.
Sharmin Sultana, a quality inspector at the same organisation, said, "Prior to the nutrition programme I used to feel dizzy and weak. Now, that has improved a lot."
The NoWW project was implemented in 116 factories from April 2019 to October 2021. Of the 210,000 workers in these factories, 60% (150,000) were women workers, who received iron and folic acid supplements every week.
The overall objective of the project was to address nutritional deficiency, specifically iron deficiency among adult women in RMG factories.
The Canadian government provided financial assistance in this project.
Benoit Préfontaine, High Commissioner of Canada to Bangladesh, termed the project essential as it was focused on the wellbeing of workers.
He also stressed the need for similar initiatives to be continued.
Dr Mustafizur Rahman, line director, Institute of Public Health Nutrition (IPHN) - National Nutrition Service (NNS), Goutom Kumar, director, DoL, Ministry of Labour and Employment, professor Dr Nazma Shaheen, Khodaker Mostan Hossain, former additional secretary Ministry of Labour and Employment, Md Mansoor Ahmed, senior vice president, BKMEA, Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, vice president, BKMEA and Md Akthter Hossain, vice president, BKMEA spoke among others.