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October 14, 2022

UNICEF, Bangladesh apparel sector initiative to support mothers at work

UNICEF and the Bangladesh garment industry are working together on the Mothers@Work initiative to support working and expectant mothers by improving working conditions in garment factories.

By Shemona Safaya

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) is partnering with the Bangladesh Garments’ Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA), under the UNICEF-led Mothers@Work initiative.

Factories will receive support for providing the following facilities to working mothers and pregnant women. The list includes:

  1. Breastfeeding spaces and breaks
  2. Childcare facilities
  3. Paid maternity leave
  4. Cash benefits
  5. Health care
  6. Employment protection
  7. Safe working environment

UNICEF states the evidence shows paid time off, support for breastfeeding and antenatal services contribute to healthier children and happier families as well as gender equality, workforce productivity and sustainable economic growth.

Bangladesh’s garment industry is the second largest clothing exporter in the world, contributing about 11% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. 

Over half of the nearly four million people working in garment factories are women of reproductive age. However, a 2018 UNICEF survey revealed gaps in the provision of breaks and private spaces for breastfeeding, which is critical to children’s health and development.

Sheldon Yett, Unicef’s representative to Bangladesh, said: “Providing targeted support for women in the workforce and ensuring women can earn a living, while also having the needed support to care for their children, is critical for women and their children and is an investment that benefits all.”

Building on lessons learned from a UNICEF pilot project, this partnership will improve working conditions for 130,000 women and provide better nutrition services, and day-care facilities for 8,000 children. 

Starting in 80 factories initially, the initiative is said to gradually increase aiming to ultimately reach over 4,000 factories in Bangladesh.

Faruque Hassan, president of BGMEA, said: “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 that their children receive key nutrients necessary to support a baby’s healthy development.”

Salim Osman, president of BKMEA, added: “We commit to building a conducive work environment for mothers in our knitwear sector, for the benefit of our workers, their children who are the future of our nation and for our businesses.”

UNICEF has also been engaging with the government as a way to sustain and scale up the Mothers@Work programme.

Earlier in 2017, UNICEF partnered with Better Work Bangladesh (BWB) in a nation-wide initiative to help garment factories improve the lives of nursing mothers in the workplace.

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