A survey suggests more than two-fifths of Cambodia garment workers suffer from anaemia

A survey suggests more than two-fifths of Cambodia garment workers suffer from anaemia

First results from a year-long study into the health and productivity of garment workers has found that more than two-fifths of those surveyed currently suffer from anaemia.

The research aims to look at the impact of providing workers with free food, and is being carried out as part of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia project, together with the Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Angkor Research and Consulting Ltd.

Some of the baseline data collected so far has found high levels of anaemia and food insecurity among Cambodian garment workers. Some 43.2% of garment workers surveyed suffer from anaemia and 15.7% of workers are underweight according to the Asian Body Mass Index (BMI). The study also found that garment workers spend around $9 per week on food or $1.30 per day.

Anxiety and uncertainty about food supply was also found to be surprisingly high in garment workers with only one-third of workers in the study meeting the definition of 'food secure' according to standardised assessment tools.

In addition, around 8% of workers met the definition for severely food insecure. The study will investigate this finding further to examine possible links between anxiety and uncertainty about food supply, and workers' other expenditures such as remittances to family.

"Anaemia and food insecurity can contribute to wide ranging health problems for workers," says Jill Tucker, Better Factories Cambodia programme manager. "Anaemia often leads to chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating and low productivity.

"Addressing these anaemia levels will be complex, but is key to improving productivity and business outcomes in the garment sector."

The next phase of the research will look at what interventions are the most effective in improving worker health and productivity.

The first findings so far are based on surveys with 3,890 garment workers in ten garment factories that together employ over 13,300 people. Its ultimate aim is to assess the impact of free food provision on workers' health and productivity.

The baseline survey results will be followed by a midline survey later this year.  The final survey will take place one year after the baseline study, in mid-2015.

Incidents of mass faintings in Cambodia's garment industry have long been blamed on a combination of overwork, poor working conditions, poverty wages that mean garment workers cannot afford to eat properly, and a lack of food. But the problem appears to have accelerated this year after at least two workers died after passing out while working at garment factories.

A report last year by Labour Behind the Label claimed that many industry workers were suffering from baseline malnutrition.