A new study has determined that cost and space are the biggest constraints to setting up canteens in Cambodia’s garment factories.
The findings were presented on Monday night at a cocktail party attended by Cambodia’s former ambassador to the US, Roland Eng, the Swedish Ambassador Anne Höglund, Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia Chairman Van Sou Ieng, Rami Sharaf of RMA Asia and many others.
Sandra D’Amico of HR Inc, who’s company BD link carried out the study, gave the presentation and spoke afterwards to explain the significance of the findings.
“Garment factory owners are very concerned about the nutrition and health of their workers. However they do not feel they should carry the burden of the cost,” D’Amico said. “However, factories lack information and understanding around professional food service providers like Hagar.”
The study covered 35,000 garment factory workers during a three month period this year.
“Nutrition impacts productivity, that’s a fact,” D’Amico said. “Better health, concentration, learning, stamina and strength: all of that is needed to perform.”
She said many factory workers now got their meals from food service stalls outside factory gates where the food was not fresh and hygienic.
“From the perspective of improving health generally for workers, something needs to be done to improve the quality of services.”
D’Amico said one innovative option that was explored by the study was a joint canteen facility, where government, employers, unions and factories would all come together to create facilities and subsidise meals for the workers.
“Such a facility needs to be explored better as to feasibility and willingness to participate,” she said.
D’Amico thinks there’s a misperception in general about how much factory workers genuinely earn.
She said there’s also a problem that many factory workers send more money than they should to their family members in the provinces, often at the expense of their own health.
“I think public information from radio, TV, newspapers that this target group reads needs to give people the information they need to look after themselves effectively. They need to know if they eat bad food what that is going to mean for them in the long run.”
D’Amico said she hoped to see more innovation with snacks so that workers could get vitamins and iron they might not otherwise get.
“The issue of nutrition is serious because it has long-term consequences and the impact is huge from a social security perspective. The whole topic is unbelievably important. I think everybody has a responsibility, government, unions, civil society, the public sector, they have an obligation to talk about these issues, and to promote healthy eating.”
D’Amico said the survey shows that it is necessary to maintain a cost base given that providing canteen services in factories is a massive up-front investment.
“If you increase cost base significantly, it increases cost to buyers, and we are in a very volatile, fragile environment where people don’t understand what the impact is going to be on Cambodia. Factories have genuine and real concerns about maintaining jobs and sustainability of the operations they have,” she said.
D’Amico said she hopes more studies would be done on nutrition and health in the garment sector.
“What we do know from the government health survey is that one in 15 women is too thin,” she said. “We can really benefit from more information on nutrition health on productivity issues.”
The survey found that factory managers believe that nutrition and productivity are linked and feel that employers should not carry the burden of nutrition alone.
Seventy-five per cent of factories provide basic medical care for workers and 33 per cent of factories were providing private medical insurance to workers.
“Most factories do not have canteens and factory managers feel they should be involved in challenges related to nutrition and healthcare, so there is a great need for training linked to productivity in the sector because managers need to understand the issues around nutrition and health.”
The survey found that most factory workers eat outside the factory gate.
Sixty per cent of factories believed that workers spent from 1,000 to 2,000 riels for every meal, with breakfast and lunch being the cheapest and dinner the most expensive.
“There should be cleaner facilities or public sector interventions, to increase cleanliness and hygiene,” she said.
D’Amico said 56 per cent of factories said they would be interested to provide one meal, but they needed to be shown a positive change in productivity.
“We asked factory managers if they were interested in joint canteen facilities, and servicing a bigger number of workers. In summary, we can say that factory managers are very concerned about health and nutrition issue. The feasibility of canteens is less given concerns of space, and there is a real need for factories to have information on cost and productivity if they were to be interested in providing meals,” D’Amico said.
“If government unions and employers would come together to support joint facilities, they could do cost sharing of infrastructure and a subsidy of the meals is worth further investigation,” she said.
“We also need to get more information to factory managers and we need public sector intervention in improving food services outside the factory gates.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart Alan Becker at [email protected]