Anaemia can lead to chronic fatigue and low worker productivity

Anaemia can lead to chronic fatigue and low worker productivity

Final results of a multi-year study into the health of Cambodian garment workers has found that the incidence of anaemia – which can lead to chronic fatigue and low productivity – not only remains higher than in the population at large but is also on the rise.

The researchers say they set out to try to understand factors that affect workers' overall wellbeing, rather than respond specifically to mass faintings in factories.

But they acknowledge mass faintings continue to take place, rising from 1,686 workers in more than 20 factories in 2012, according to Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training (MOLVT) reports, to 1,806 faintings in 32 factories last year. Factors contributing to these episodes are said include the smell of paint and pesticides inside the premises, poor health and hygiene, and fatigue.

They also point out that despite Cambodia's economic growth, its garment sector is among the least productive in the region – noting that while there is talk about the correlation between workers' food intake, health and welfare, large-scale studies on these links are rare.

The research into 'Garment Workers' Health, Socio-Economic Status and Food Provision in Factories,' has been carried out in stages as part of the International Labour Organization's (ILO) Better Factories Cambodia project, together with Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and Angkor Research and Consulting.

Beginning with a study in 2012 on the perceptions of garment factory owners towards workers' nutritional status and the provision of canteen services, it moved on to examine workers' physical health status, food consumption and food security in factories with and without food provision programmes.

Eight factories employing over 10,000 people were involved, with 3,302 workers randomly selected to take part.

Among the findings was the fact that 18% of non-pregnant garment workers had moderate or severe anaemia, compared to around 6% of non-pregnant women in the general population. One-third (33.8%) of male garment workers were anaemic.

And nearly two-thirds (61.4%) of pregnant workers were classified as anaemic, of which nearly one-third (31.1%) had moderate anaemia – around eight percentage points higher than pregnant women in the overall population.

Anaemia can result from a nutritional deficiency of iron, folate, vitamin B12, or other nutrients.

As for the workers' typical daily diet, the research found food consumption "shows an acceptable amount of dietary diversity," although dairy products and foods rich in vitamin A were largely missing.

And workers in treatment factories who always ate the food provided by factories had more dietary diversity than workers who occasionally or never ate the food provisions.

The findings confirm that dietary diversity is a key component to improving the nutritional status of garment workers and can be achieved through regular consumption of a variety of nutritious foods.

But the researchers add that training on nutrition, dietary diversity and hygiene would be beneficial to help workers move to a healthier lifestyle, and that further research is needed into the causes of anaemia and to identify effective strategies to tackle it.

Click on the following link to read the research in detail: Garment Workers' Health, Socio-Economic Status and Food Provision in Factories.

According to separate data from the ILO, labour productivity in Cambodia's garment and footwear sector fell by 14% between 2011 and 2014 – and this decline has continued into 2016, according to the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC). 

Cambodian garment sector warns of falling productivity