Partnering to Improve Women’s Nutrition in the Bangladesh Garment Sector

The rapid expansion of the garment industry is one of the driving forces behind Bangladesh’s economic development: Bangladesh is now the second largest exporter of garments in the world.

Poor nutrition is a major challenge for many garment factory workers. The industry employs over 4 million garment workers in Bangladesh, of which 60% are women. Almost half of factory workers are believed to experience undernutrition and anaemia – a condition made worse for many women when they become pregnant, and responsible for up to 50% of childhood stunting cases.

COVID-19 has exaggerated the country’s gender nutrition crisis, with a declining number of expectant and new mothers receiving nutrition counselling (63% decline) and taking iron and folic acid supplements (36% decline)[1]. Both services are known to have a direct and positive effect on the health and well-being of workers and their young children. This comes alongside major disturbances to food systems in both urban and rural parts of the country, further increasing people’s vulnerability to poor health and nutrition.

Photo Credit: UNICEF
Photo Credit: UNICEF

Recognising the opportunity to improve nutritional levels by going directly to working women in Bangladesh’s factories, The Power of Nutrition and PVH Corp. are partnering to introduce nutrition services within PVH supplier factories in Bangladesh. PVH is one of the world’s largest fashion companies, with a presence in over 40 countries through global iconic brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.

The partnership forms part of a four-year, $15 million national programme through which UNICEF Bangladesh is supporting the Government of Bangladesh to scale up critical nutrition interventions for pregnant women and children in Bangladesh districts where undernutrition rates are highest. The programme is expected to reach over one million women and have a positive long-term impact on the country’s nutrition as well as socio-economic levels by addressing the root causes of stunting and encouraging more productive, healthy communities.

Bangladeshi women who work in the garment industry often access antenatal care through an onsite health facility. With support from PVH, UNICEF Bangladesh and The Power of Nutrition will introduce core nutrition support in eight PVH supplier factories through UNICEF and Better Work Bangladesh’s Mothers@Work programme. ‘Mothers@Work’ provides seven minimum standards of maternity protection and breastfeeding support including:

  1. Breastfeeding spaces
  2. Breastfeeding breaks
  3. Childcare provision (including onsite childcare in all private organizations with more than 40 female employees of reproductive age)
  4. Paid maternity leave
  5. Cash and medical benefits (provided to women on maternity leave to support the health and well-being of both mother and child)
  6. Employment protection and non-discrimination (including the right to return to a job of the same grade or an equivalent pay after maternity leave)
  7. Safe-work provision ensuring that factories conditions are safe for expecting mothers.

GFFA stockTo date, the programme has successfully reached 92 factories and 160,000 workers. PVH’s investment in The Power of Nutrition and UNICEF’s programme will also support in-country advocacy to strengthen the nutrition regulatory framework in Bangladesh and protect working women and mothers’ rights.

Smruti Govan, Senior Manager, Corporate Responsibility at PVH said “At PVH, we recognize that we have an important role to play in investing in the health and prosperity of our people and their communities. Through our partnership with The Power of Nutrition, we are supporting an innovative initiative to provide access to critical services for working mothers and ultimately empower women in the global supply chain – a crucial priority within our Forward Fashion strategy. We are excited to enter this new partnership as it will truly make a difference to working women in our factories and set a model for potential expansion.”

The Power of Nutrition is a charitable foundation that unites businesses, governments, investors, non-profits, and change agents in a joint mission to end the cycle of undernutrition. Its unique match-funding and partnership model makes nutrition investments go further for maximum scale and impact. By working through The Power of Nutrition, PVH’s funding for the Bangladesh programme will be leveraged over four times.

Michelle Thompson, Director of Partnerships and Brands at The Power of Nutrition said: “We are delighted to welcome PVH to our growing network of partners from a range of sectors committed to ending undernutrition. This partnership is a great example of businesses playing an active role in improving the health of the communities they work within, while benefiting from pooling resources and expertise with other sectors for maximum impact. We are excited to see the results of our joint work.”

[1] Bangladesh DHIS-2 January 2020 – May 2020