Putting productivity on the menu

An ILO project that provides free lunch at garment factories is proving to be a hit with workers, but whether or not this 50-cent per worker “experiment” catches on will depend on factory owners and the brands they supply.

Last July, eight garment factories in Phnom Penh and Kampong Speu province added free lunch to their workers’ benefits package. The free lunch program is an experiment designed by the International Labor Organization (ILO) to test how a nutritious meal can affect workers’ health and productivity.

As the garment industry seeks to improve productivity without raising costs, some of the people involved in the program say free lunches could provide the solution.

ILO researchers have spent almost a year testing workers for anemia – a common symptom of malnutrition – as well as measuring absenteeism, sick days, and the number of garments stitched. Researchers will also compare the turnover of workers at factories with free meals to factories without them, with results scheduled to be released in September.

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