Pioneering international public private partnership to focus on mental health of factory and mill workers in Bangladesh garment industry

A new project in Bangladesh providing mental health training and support to workers in the ready-made-garments industry has been launched by the British Asian Trust, in partnership with Primark and SAJIDA Foundation.

Bangladesh has a population of 170 million, with one in five people estimated to experience poor mental health. More than 90% do not seek medical attention for mental health issues. Only about 0.5% of the total health budget is allocated to mental health[1].

Public mental health services are limited with a scarcity of skilled mental health professionals, limited resources and stigma surrounding mental health issues. In the ready-made-garment sector, research has shown women are particularly vulnerable to developing a wide array of mental health issues, with consequent absenteeism and lower productivity[2].  Women currently make up 80% of the 4 million-strong ready-made-garments industry workforce in Bangladesh.

This project aims to set up a service to provide support for mental health in the workplace and improve the mental wellbeing of 2,500 ready-made-garments factory workers, predominantly women, across five factories and mills.  It will draw on the experience of SAJIDA Foundation’s work in ready-made-garments factories in Bangladesh and learnings from Primark’s MySpace programme in India, both of which found that mental health services in factories and mills improved people’s ability to deal with stress and problems.

[1] The Importance of Investment in Workforce Mental Healthcare - RMG Bangladesh (rmgbd.net)
[2] Pāla-Majumadāra P. Health status of the garment workers in Bangladesh. Dhaka, Bangladesh: Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies; 2003.

Key workers in factories and mills will be trained as lay counsellors to provide support to their colleagues. Awareness-raising sessions will help reduce stigma and cover important mental health issues and topics, helping workers to recognise mental health symptoms and seek support. Providing mental health services and improving mental health for workers will improve the wellbeing and working environment in the factories and mills overall. As the project develops, the British Asian Trust plans to work with key stakeholders to support better mental health across ready-made garment factories for all workers.

British Asian Trust Chief Executive Richard Hawkes said: “Earlier this month, I was fortunate enough to visit this project in person and meet people working in the factory, as well as colleagues from Primark. One in five people in Bangladesh will experience some form of mental health issue and women in particular often can’t access services. This project is an innovative way to help break the silence, destigmatise mental illness and bust myths through training and counselling. It is ground-breaking work set to make a significant difference to garment workers mental wellbeing and which we hope can eventually be replicated across the ready-made-garment sector in Bangladesh.”

Lindsey Block, Primark’s Head of Social Impact added: “We are very happy to be partnering with British Asian Trust and the SAJIDA foundation in Bangladesh. This builds on our existing work in India with St. Johns Medical College. We have seen that initiatives to support garment workers` mental health can not only benefit individuals but can also reduce the stigma of those suffering from mental health issues. We look forward to supporting an effective peer-led counselling service for garment workers in Bangladesh in the near future.”

Ms. Zahida Fizza Kabir, Chief Executive Officer of SAJIDA Foundation commented: “A positive working environment can improve wellbeing and productivity while reducing absenteeism. Considering the contribution of the ready-made-garment sector in economic development and women empowerment, it is crucial to embed an integrated wellbeing strategy which will cover prevention, identification, support and rehabilitation."