In Focus: Workforce nutrition in the Bangladesh garment sector

Tell us a little about yourself ...

Major Murtaza: After more than fifteen years in the Bangladesh Army, I retired and now I am the General Manager of Human Resources for Lenny Fashions Ltd, a garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Jazz Smith-Khaira: I have a background in corporate sustainability and communications, and am currently the global Manager for Worker and Community Development for VF Corporation, one of the world’s largest apparel, footwear and accessories companies.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: I am Former Additional Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment of Bangladesh. I spent about 31 years in various capacities as a civil servant at home and abroad for Bangladesh and I now am working as a policy and advocacy consultant. 


What got you interested in nutrition? 

Major Murtaza: Nutrition is important to overall health and well-being, and it impacts the success of individuals and families.

Jazz Smith-Khaira: I grew up in Malaysia with parents who were health scientists. I used to go on field visits with them and saw first-hand the impact of poor nutrition such as stunting and anaemia on young children. Even as a child myself, I was able to appreciate nutrition not only for its link to health, but also how it shapes our ability to learn and develop in all aspects of life.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: Good nutrition has a positive impact on society and industry. It is important for everyone – women, children, families.


What do you work on, and how does it relate to public private engagement for nutrition? 

Major Murtaza: I lead the workforce nutrition programmes at one of four Lenny Fashion Ltd garment factories in Dhaka. I am responsible for balancing the well-being of our workers while also ensuring we run a productive and efficient business – we have really embraced the “Healthy worker, healthy business” motto.

Jazz Smith-Khaira: As part of its Responsible Sourcing programme, VF Corporation works with NGOs, experts from industry and academia to create programmes that help improve the lives of our employees in three areas: access to water and sanitation; health and nutrition; childcare and education. We are working on workforce nutrition programmes with GAIN in Bangladesh, and with CARE in Cambodia.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: I draw on my civil service experience to connect the policymakers, the government, NGOs and the private sector to build public private partnerships for nutrition.


Woman in garment factor


What is exciting about what you work on, in relation to workforce nutrition? 

Major Murtaza: One exciting aspect of this work is its multiplier effect: If we train 2,000 employees in better health and nutrition, we will influence 2,000 families. If each family has 5 people, that’s 10,000 people who have positively benefited. And if each of those people tell just one other person about what they learned, we’ve reached 20,000 people. To make people’s lives better – to serve my country and the people in this way – that’s exciting!

Jazz Smith-Khaira: I love working to increase the availability of nutritious foods. We have put a lot of work in at the beginning to create a robust theory of change and framework for monitoring and evaluation; we interviewed 5,000 workers just in the first year. But I am most excited to see the results and what this work achieves – the proof will be in the pudding!

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: For me, it’s exciting to see nutrition embedded at the highest level of policymaking: workforce nutrition can be an important part of that commitment.

What successes have you had? 

Major Murtaza: We have already seen results of our nutrition programmes: average absenteeism has gone down; sickness is down to almost zero; and turnover has been reduced. These are great results for our workers and for the factory.

Jazz Smith-Khaira: We are really pleased to have reached over 100,000 workers in our first year, and look forward to scaling up to 300,000 this year, with the ultimate goal of reaching 2 million people by 2030.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: I recently facilitated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Ministry of Labour and Employment and GAIN, bridging the relevant Ministries, Ready Made Garment (RMG) factories and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to support workforce nutrition programmes for the RMG factory workers.


What has been challenging? 

Major Murtaza: Everything is challenging, especially because this is a new programme. Logistically, it’s very complex – organising systems, schedules and space to train thousands of employees. Once we worked out a system, it was difficult to change people’s minds: for managers, motivating them to understand the importance of this investment and the use of workers’ time; for workers, this information was new to many, so knowledge uptake was often quite slow and lessons needed to be broken into parts or repeated.

Jazz Smith-Khaira: There are a few challenges for us: Encouraging factories to invest in these programmes because it’s good for their employees and business, not just because buyers demand it. Needs assessments are time consuming and expensive, but there is no one size fits all approach so these are necessary to get each programme right. Making the business case for these programmes is key if the programmes and their benefits are going to be truly sustainable. Scaling up to make this programme available to more people in more of our factories and communities. Communicating our successes within the supply chain and across our brands is also a challenge.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: The employers have already invested a lot of money to improve the working conditions, particularly to ensure workplace safety. This has increased their costs and they are facing stiff price competition with limited scope to invest in worker nutrition.



What’s next? 

Major Murtaza: After seeing the progress with our programme, we started nutrition programmes in the other Lenny factories to provide more nutritious canteen lunches and nutrition education to our workers.

Jazz Smith-Khaira: We have many exciting programmes on the horizon. Including exploring a maternal and newborn health programme in Indonesia, and  programme on maternal and reproductive health in Vietnam. And in September, we will start the needs assessment process and will interview workers in Haiti for the first time to help us develop future programming.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: I am looking forward to telling my colleagues what I’ve experienced at the ‘Better nutrition for a healthier workforce’ meeting.


Has this work surprised you or made you change your mind about anything?

Major Murtaza: I did not imagine such a big return. We have seen better bonding between workers and managers, improved attitudes at work and better performance. When someone becomes healthy, they see changes in their life. When you do good for others, they do good for you. I think these programmes should be in all factories, but there is a cost in terms of time and investment. To encourage other factories to do the same, I would recommend a certification to factories so buyers know which factories are making these extra investments for their employees.  

Jazz Smith-Khaira: Working at VF has made me appreciate how important it is to have internal support and leadership for these programmes if we want to achieve sustainable impact. Our funding comes from a corporate investment budget, not through a foundation or philanthropic giving. This commitment from leadership sends a very strong signal that driving business in a way that benefits people and planet is a priority for the company. 

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: There is a cost for companies to invest in social goods, including workforce nutrition programmes. To do it and stay competitive, they may need collective sharing of responsibility and investment (multinational companies, brands, buyers, RMG Association etc.)



If you had to have a slogan, or a strapline, for this work, what would it be?

Major Murtaza: Nutrition for everyone!

Jazz Smith-Khaira: The power of partnerships lies in true co-creation and co-development, drawing on each other’s strengths to make significant and sustainable impact. Also: Be kind!

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: We can all work together to scale up nutrition for workers everywhere.


What is your favourite food or meal?

 Major Murtaza: I like beef!

Jazz Smith-Khaira: I love to cook and try new things but I think if I would have to pick a favourite it would be Malaysian food. It is a melting pot of so many amazing foods.

Khondaker Mostan Hossain: Fish and vegetables!


⬛ End of interview.


Photos from Lenny Fashions Ltd workforce nutrition programme


Want to experience a day through the eyes of a RMG worker?

Join Mala and Pinky in their journey to better nutrition with this virtual reality video.



Looking for more? 

Visit Workforce Nutrition on Nutrition Connect and GAIN’s Workforce Nutrition programmes to learn more about workforce nutrition programmes