Team Group, one of the largest conglomerates that employs 20,000 workers and has a $600 million yearly turnover, opened a child care centre about three years ago. The group has also been distributing free nutritious food and food supplements to pregnant women workers. Besides, the women workers and their family members get regular health check-ups, also free of cost.
Team Group officials told The Business Standard that currently there are 376 pregnant women workers in five of their factories. They get eggs and bananas in addition to the regular lunch every day. Folic acid and food supplements are also provided from the factory's own pharmacy.
The group also provides meals at subsidised prices, celebrates International Mother's Day, and has kindergarten schools for workers' children in the factory premises.
"These initiatives have resulted in positive changes in productivity in our factories, strengthening relations between workers and the management. There are also plans to open primary schools in at least two factories in the future," said the group's Managing Director Abdullah Hil Rakib.
Around 50 garment factories have introduced day care centres at the factories and 30 have been providing their workers with daily commodities, including pulses and oil at lower than market rates.
Besides these wellbeing initiatives, some of the leading Bangladesh apparel manufacturers are keen on expanding support programmes for their workforce, who put in gruelling hours to keep the factories running.
Many of these factories have implemented the programmes on their own initiative outside the obligation of the labour laws.
Some factories provide transportation facilities for workers at their own expense while others produce vegetables in their own yards, farm fish and produce milk products in their dairy firms – to sell the products to their workers at subsidised rates.
A number of apparel manufacturers are providing free lunch for their employees. Snowtex Group is the pioneer in introducing the programme in the RMG sector. The group, which has been providing free lunch to its workers since 2015, did not stop supplying lunch even during the Covid-19 pandemic. It has rather added new dimensions to the diet according to the nutritional needs of the workers.
Snowtex Managing Director SM Khaled said, "Now we provide lunch to our 16,000 employees, which helps to increase productivity."
About 20 other industries in Bangladesh are providing free lunch or food at subsidised rates for their employees, according to industry insiders.
Besides, 30 more RMG factories, including DBL Group, Fakir Fashion, Mohammadi Group, Ananta Group, Epyllion Group, Cute Dress, Square Group, Meghna Group, Akij Group, SQ Celsius, and Northern Apparel have been providing essential commodities to their workers at fair prices. They have continued the service even in the face of rising commodity prices.
MA Jabbar, managing director of DBL Group, told TBS that the group is currently supplying 40 types of products, including daily necessities, to its employees at prices 15% to 20% less than the market price.
Lipi Akter, operator of Attires Manufacturing Company Limited, a sister concern of Urmi Group, said that she regularly buys from the company's fair price shop.
"We also get free medicines, sanitary pads and doctors' consultation," she said, adding that she received a financial assistance of Tk1 lakh from the company when her sister's daughter got sick.
Labour union leaders have also welcomed such initiatives of the garment owners.
Noting positive changes in RMG workers' welfare since 2013, Sirajul Islam Rony, president of Bangladesh National Garments Employees League (BNGWEL), said, "Most importantly, there has been a positive change in the mindset of owners. As a result, the employer-employee gap is decreasing day by day."
RMG entrepreneurs say they are prioritising workers' wellbeing to boost productivity and sustain progress.
The Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) wants to increase the productivity of workers to 60% by 2030. Within the same timeframe it also aims to ensure an inclusive and decent workplace as well as achieve 100% good health and wellbeing of employees.
"It is imperative to keep the workplace safe and welcoming for mothers and pregnant women working in garment factories to protect their well-being and ensure their children receive key nutrients necessary for healthy growth," said BGMEA President Faruque Hassan.
Among other initiatives, the BGMEA implements the Lactating Mother Aid Fund with the help of the Department of Women Affairs under the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs. Garments workers also get financial assistance from a Central Fund under the Ministry of Labour and Employment with contribution from RMG owners.
The pilot for Employment Injury Scheme (EIS) program in collaboration with the ILO is currently underway.
Industry insiders say the owners are getting positive results from their worker wellbeing programs. The biggest change they have noticed is that the rate of workers switching jobs has reduced.
"We are providing transportation facilities to factory workers. We are providing products at lower than market prices. Some 10-15% of workers on average used to switch jobs. This has dropped to 5% which has positively contributed to our productivity," said Fakir Fashions Ltd Managing Director Fakir Kamruzzaman Nahid.