Poor Health, Diet Rife in Garment Sector

More than 40 percent of garment workers have the debilitating blood disorder anemia and only one third have access to adequate food, the initial results of a new study show.

The yearlong study, funded by the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program and Agence Francaise de Developpement, aims to discover the impact that just one free meal a day can have on Cambodian garment workers.

Preliminary results released Monday show that, of 3,980 workers surveyed at 10 factories, 15.7 percent are underweight, two-thirds are “food insecure”—meaning they do not at all times have access to sufficient safe and nutritious food—and 43.2 percent suffer from anemia, a deficiency of red blood cells that leads to low blood pressure, fatigue and fainting.

A report published last September by Cambodian and British advocacy groups claims that 33 percent of factory workers were medically malnourished and that each should spend $2.50 a day on food to meet their caloric needs. But this new study found that garment workers spend only $1.30 per day on food.

While the study’s findings are generally in line with the wider female population, BFC program manager Jill Tucker said she had expected the anemia figure to be lower, as those surveyed had a regular income.

Ms. Tucker also said that, in order to raise health standards, factories are encouraged to provide their workers with food on-site rather than paying a meal allowance.

“It’s really clear…that just providing more money does not mean that they eat more or that they eat better, they just don’t seem to spend a lot of money on their own food, they tend to send it home” or spend it on general living costs, she said.

Ian Ramage, director of Angkor Research and Consulting, which is carrying out the study, said the factories have now been divided into two groups, with half giving their workers a free daily meal and the others providing nothing, so that health and productivity outcomes can be compared over a 12-month period.

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