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     Volume 9 Issue 43| November 05, 2010 |


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Doing Business Responsibly

Tamanna Khan

Sunnyside-a safe, fun place for children of garment workers.

After a three-hour-long journey through Dhaka-Narayanganj traffic and the treacherous road that rattles the bones, the building that harbours the Sunnyside Day Care Centre, does not look particularly bright from the outside. Yet the first floor of the ordinary looking building holds a surprise for visitors – a very well maintained, clean, spacious and lively place where working women can leave their children for the day without worry. This place is not for the children of well-off families; rather it is for the women garments-workers who are employed in garment factories located in the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) area, Narayanganj.

The centre is jointly financed by Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA) and Metro Group, a German-based world-renowned retailer and major buyer of Bangladeshi garments. As part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programme, Metro Group is trying to ensure that the factories they do business with follow BSCI (Business Social Compliance Initiative) which are business social standards related to child labour, female workers, safety, working hours, pay etc. The large retailers are answerable to their local community as a result they want their suppliers to obtain BSCI certification.

Anton GM Knijf, vice president International Affairs of Singapore-based Metro Group, says that in Bangladesh many factories are not BSCI certified and one of the criteria to become certified is to have a day care centre for children of the female employees. “If factories are willing to have BSCI compliance, we support them. In the meantime, we take the burden off their shoulders. Let's say we trail them while they prepare themselves for all the issues that have to be met. And then, the day the factories become BSCI compliance, the children can go to their own day care centre,” he adds.

Majority of the workers in garment factories are young women who often have toddlers with no one to look after them, as the husbands of these women also work. This is why when the Metro Group, which has been doing business in Bangladesh for the last twenty years, thought of a CSR programme for its suppliers, the idea for opening a day care centre came up at a discussion with BKMEA. Currently the BKMEA member factories, wanting to be BSCI certified and having more than 40 female workers, can ask their workers to make use of this facility.

The centre started its operation an August 12, 2010 with 15 children, although it has a capacity to give care to 60. It has 16 full-time and part-time staff comprising of nannies, caregivers, a cook, cleaners, education facilitators, a doctor, a nurse, administrative officers and an in-charge trained in the US. Initially, the female workers were suspicious of a place that -provided child care for free. “Mothers are afraid that this is a place where perhaps the children will disappear to the western world,” informs Anton with a chuckle. He says that the workers needs to be educated and made aware that the employers are providing these facilities for their own benefit.

Photos: Gazi Munsur Aziz

Currently, a total of 32 children come to Sunnyside everyday, while their mothers go off to work in the different garment factories located in the BSCIC area. Moni, working in NR group leaves her thirteen-month-old son Mehedi Hasan at Sunnyside every morning. She often pays a visit at lunchtime and breast-feeds the baby. Taking up the gleeful Mehedi on her lap, she says, “There is no one to look after him. I have a four-year-old daughter, who stays alone at home. I came to know about this place from others and then visited it. I liked it here so I keep my son here.”

Moni is very happy with the service the centre provides including the nutritious food, medical facilities as well as the friendly staff. The In-Charge, Hasina Choudhury says, “We provide them 4 to 5 meals a days. If the mothers come late we again provide them with food. The centre runs from 7:15 am to 7:15 pm.”

Other than a kitchen, bathrooms and a dining space, the floor has cubicles for breast-feeding, medical service and administrative work where records on the children, the mothers, family and the factory where the mothers work, are maintained. The playpen is carpeted with coloured plastic square mats and filled with toys, colouring books and storybooks. There are three rooms for the children to taking nap or rest, one for the infants, the second for young toddlers between one to two years and the third for older toddlers between two to six years. The walls are brightly painted and decorated with Bengali alphabets, numbers and cartoon figures. As children from different age groups come to the centre, the education facilitators limit their teachings to rhymes, drawings, identifying numbers, letters and colours.

“I don't know of any other effective, free and centralised day-care centre as this one in Bangladesh,” says A. H. Aslam Sunny, vice president Finance of the BKMEA. “When we tell our workers of these free facilities they often do not believe us. They think that we may have some other vested interest. But this is totally our social responsibility,” adds Aslam.

Recently they have taken up two programmes – one is a primary school and the other a 10-bed medical centre at the BSCIC, Narayanganj, both of which are absolutely free for the employees. Aslam is confident that more and more factories as well as buyers will take up such socially responsible programmes, making themselves more accountable to the employees as well as to the community they operate in.



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