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Better Work supports maternity rights and breastfeeding in Bangladesh garment sector through Mothers@Work

22 Aug 2017

22 August 2017.

Dhaka, Bangladesh – Mothers@Work, a national initiative to support maternity rights and promote breastfeeding in the garment sector has been launched in Bangladesh. Drawing on the combined expertise of UNICEF and the ILO/IFC Better Work Bangladesh programme, the initiative will help protect the wellbeing of mothers and ensure that their children receive the early nutrition they deserve.

Initially piloted in two Better Work Bangladesh ready-made garment (RMG) companies, DBL and Vision Apparels, Mothers@Work will be rolled out in 25 of the 130 RMG factories in which the programme currently works by the end of 2018.

The initiative will see Better Work Enterprise Advisors interact with factory management and workers – especially new mothers – on a regular basis to help boost awareness of breastfeeding’s benefits. They will ensure that policies and procedures relating to breastfeeding and maternity protection are followed while also supporting factories to set up breastfeeding rooms in line with UNICEF recommendations and the labour law.

Louis Vanegas, Programme Manager of Better Work Bangladesh stressed how employers and workers alike would profit from Mothers@Work.

“Providing a respectful breastfeeding and maternity protection environment for working mothers is not an additional burden for factories, but rather a complimentary service that permits the factories to meet the needs of its most productive and skilled workers, who on a daily basis, contribute to delivering to the bottom line of its buyers,” he said.

Developed by UNICEF through national consultations with relevant stakeholders, the Mothers@Work programme comprises seven minimum standards which address the challenges faced by young mothers. The standards include paid maternity leave, provision of breastfeeding and childcare facilities, flexible working arrangements, health protection, medical benefits, and employment protection and non-discrimination.

Evidence has proven that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is the optimal way of feeding infants because, among other benefits, it increases survival rates of infants, provides antibodies to combat disease, and stimulates an infant’s overall healthy growth and development. It is therefore vital that working mothers are given the opportunity to breastfeed or express their breast milk during working hours.

Unfortunately in Bangladesh as well as many other countries there tends to be widespread misunderstanding of the benefits of workplace breastfeeding. As a result, enterprises often fail to comply with the provisions of the labour law relating to breastfeeding and are confronted with high absenteeism as well as high turnover rates of female staff following maternity leave. These issues are particularly critical in the Bangladesh garment industry, where some 60 per cent of employees are female.

Better Work is a flagship programme of the ILO, jointly managed by the International Finance Corporation and dedicated to improving working conditions and competitiveness in the global garment industry. According to a study by Tufts University, Better Work has had a significant and positive impact on working conditions. The programme has decreased gender pay gap by up to 17 per cent and reduced sexual harassment concerns by as much as 18 per cent. Meanwhile, profitability in the factories Better Work engages has increased by up to 25 per cent.

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