The nutrition status of workers matters highly in raising their productivity, but ensuring proper nutrition for workers has long been neglected in the country's readymade garment sector, speakers said.
According to studies, productivity in the RMG industry can increase up to 20% by simply ensuring proper nutrition for workers.
But in Bangladesh, speakers said, it has become a challenge to ensure nutritious food for workers due to low wages, rising living costs, lack of awareness, and food not being available at a fair price.
These observations were made at a virtual workshop titled 'Coordinated Strategy and Collaborative Action Plan for Workforce Nutrition' held in the capital, said a media statement issued on Thursday.
The event was organised by Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Business Network (SBN) Bangladesh, a platform of the industries ministry, assisted by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Additional Health Secretary Kazi Zebunnessa Begum attended the event as chief guest, while the Director General of the Labour Department, Goutom Kumar, was in the chair.
Md Humayun Kabir, joint secretary to Ministry of Labour and Employment, Dr Al Amin Sarker, joint secretary to the Industries Ministry, Dr SM Mustafizur Rahman, line director of NNS, Institute of Public Health and Nutrition (IPHN), and Dr Rudaba Khondker, country director of GAIN Bangladesh, among others, spoke at the event.
Dr Shaifun N Shimul, associate professor of the Institute of Health Economics of Dhaka University, also presented one of the keynote papers.
During the event, the findings of three studies related to mapping exercises for coordinated and collective action on workforce nutrition, assessment of market systems around RMG factories, and the value proposition for establishing fair price shops, were disseminated.
One of the key findings was that a formal meal plan including wages which provide means of buying nutritious and safe food, storing home-made food safely, and a clean dining room can significantly improve worker morale, reduce absenteeism, and increase productivity.
According to the findings, most factories do not have regulatory bindings on providing paid breastfeeding breaks. The needs of breastfeeding mothers and their newborn children are not commonly prioritised.
Another key finding was that RMG workers lead a hectic lifestyle, and therefore, they prefer food items that require minimum effort to prepare and can quickly be processed and cooked.
As a result, food items like eggs, noodles, and potato snacks are frequently consumed by female RMG workers. The small shops around RMG factories sell a lot of counterfeit items that might pose significant health risks to RMG workers.
It was found that SMEs, including catering companies, restaurants, and bakeries, should be provided extensive support in gaining food safety knowledge, and access to finance for purchasing the required machinery and equipment to ensure that RMG workers have access to safe and nutritious food.
It was also found that establishing fair price shops could save around 11-14% of an RMG worker's monthly income, save 2-3 hours' time daily, and provide access to affordable safe and nutritious food, the media statement read.