A Spark Enables Factory Owners to See the Light
Suraiya Haque was a well-to-do woman in Dhaka, Bangladesh looking for domestic help. When an applicant came to her door with a child in tow, she turned the young woman away. But the experience ignited a spark in her mind. She began to investigate the sorry state of childcare in Dhaka and came up with a great idea.
Dhaka, the capital city, absorbs one million rural migrants each year, most of them families fleeing rural poverty. To survive in the city, both fathers and mothers are forced to find work. The majority of these mothers face a grim choice, Haque discovered; leave their children at home with an older child, who would have to miss out on her own schooling and childhood, or let them wander the dangerous and dirty streets unsupervised.
Workplace-based daycare had been on the law books in Bangladesh since 1965, but it rarely existed in practice. Even the rapidly growing garment industry, which employs 1.5 million workers, 90% of whom are women, largely ignored the requirements. Thanks to feeble law enforcement, they got away with it.
Ultimately, Haque decided to change things. In 1991, with the investment of her two grown sons’ first paychecks, she set up a small organization called Phulki, the Bengali word for “spark.” The group sets up on-site daycare centers in garment factories and offices around Dhaka.
A typical Phulki center is a big, bright and airy room employing two or three caregivers who oversee between ten and twenty children. The caregivers deliver not just basic care and affection during their mothers’ long workday, but a strong early childhood education. Children have a safe place to play, learn and socialize with each other. Their mothers are allowed time to breastfeed, share a meal or visit them briefly during breaks.
“Before,” says Farida Begum, a garment worker and mother of four, “the children would stay at home in dirty surroundings with no regular feeding, and I could not take care of them myself. But here, they stay clean, eat properly and are given affection.”
Whereas only 18% of Dhaka’s slum children attend school, the children who start their early childhood education in the day care centers have a much higher chance of attending primary school.
Haque’s innovation was in convincing factory owners that providing childcare is good for business. Employees, she explains, will be more productive knowing their children are safe and nearby. Fewer workdays will be lost to women staying home to care for sick children.
The factory owners, understanding the business benefits, agree to donate space, startup costs and caregivers’ salaries, while the mothers provide food for their children and a small portion of their paycheck for Phulki’s oversight. After six to twelve months, factories can elect to take over management of the centers or pay Puhlki to continue managing for a fee. The majority of business owners are happy to take over the childcare centers once they see how they help boost production.
Currently there are over 20 Phulki- established factory based daycare centers serving more than 40 factories and approximately 10,000 children. In addition, Phulki has set up a rapidly growing number of community based daycare programs. Haque also consults on new daycare models for hospitals, banks and even social organizations hoping to provide a better life for Bengali women and a better start for their children.
Reported by Amala Reddy
What do you think?Increasingly, pressure from international buyers and the free trade market will force factories to comply with the law. For now, many garment manufacturers initially argue that to meet the demand for cheap retail garments in the West, they cannot afford to provide costly services to their workers and stay competitive.
Haque counters this with an innovative solution. She suggests garment companies introduce a clothes-tag saying a small fraction of the cost will be funneled directly to worker services in manufacturing countries. "People will be proud to buy,” she says. “If they are clever with marketing, they can sell more jeans!"
Would a clothes-tag such as this influence your purchase decisions? Do you think this concept would catch on in the West?Post your comments below: