Around 43% of female workers in the readymade garment sector suffer from malnutrition, says a study.
Of them, 77% workers are suffering from anaemia while 19% have appeared with mild anaemia – 8% severe and 50% moderate.
The rest of the workers feel hungry after consuming a meal, which is likely to affect their energy levels, according to the study findings presented at a conference in Dhaka on Thursday that stressed workforce nutrition in Bangladesh.
Moniruzzaman Bipul, portfolio lead (targeted dietary improvement program), the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), presented the study findings on Investment for Workforce Nutrition in the RMG Sector at the conference titled "Inclusive investment for tackling poverty."
It was jointly organised by SNV Netherlands Development Organisation in Bangladesh and the Dutch-Bangla Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DBCCI).
The study shows that adequate nourishment can increase national productivity levels by 20%.
It says about 30% workers lost physical work capacity for iron deficiency which alone counts around $500 million loss in productivity in South Asia.
Besides, micronutrient deficiencies force to cut around 3% loss in GDP in developing countries.
Further, 45% of total female workers in the RMG sector consume an inadequate diversity diet and have inadequate knowledge on balanced diet and benefits of vitamins and minerals. They spend more on starchy and unsafe food.
The study calls upon employers to invest for workers' nutrition to help workers reduce micronutrient deficiencies and chronic diseases and thus increase productivity.
Jamal Uddin, inclusive business adviser to SNV, said there are around 4 million apparel workers in Bangladesh, of them, 61% are women. They are poor, less educated and sometimes face unhealthy working conditions.
They have long working hours but less time for personal care, he said while presenting a keynote paper on health financing scheme in the RMG sector.
Besides, they are mainly from disadvantaged areas and have a lack of access to health products and services, especially sexual and reproductive health, he added.
Speaking on the occasion, Dutch Ambassador to Bangladesh Harry Verweij, said "'Expand, brand, stand' is a slogan that I use for the RMG sector in Bangladesh."
"I meant by 'brand' is that Bangladesh should do more to show the world what is happening here – its progress and opportunities – and show them their willingness to do business in an inclusive and sustainable way."
"And by 'stand' I mean that Bangladesh should stand for its people, its values and its products while 'expand' is that Bangladesh should innovate and grow sustainability," he added.
Md Hanifur Rahman Lotus, chairman of the BGMEA Standing Committee on Health Centres, said, "We are investing for the workers' betterment and have raised funds for their protection."
Dr Allert Van Den Ham, country director (Laos and Myanmar), SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, said, "SNV has helped numerous private companies across the world to design inclusive business solutions…inclusive investment can tackle poverty and the private sector could be the prime contributor."
Dr Md Akramul Islam, director, Communicable Diseases and WASH Programme, Brac, mentioned, in his keynote paper, that the status of safely managed sanitation in Bangladesh is not proper.
Secretary to the Ministry of Labor and Employment KM Abdus Salam said, "For the betterment of the workers, we amended the labour law to make it befitting," he said adding, "We have ensured a welfare fund and insurance for workers, including those in the informal sector.