Worker well-being and productivity in the Bangladesh garment sector

Project Active from to Firms and Firm capabilities

Recent research suggests stress may affect worker productivity and thereby the accumulation of other forms of human capital. The garment sector is the largest employer of female workers in Bangladesh, the majority of whom have migrated from outside the area where the factories are located. These urban and peri-urban areas are characterised by inadequate basic services and infrastructure. Workers face significant stress from very long working hours, family responsibilities, and difficult living conditions. Additionally, many have migrated from rural areas, losing access to family support.

This project will shed light on the process of productivity improvements in low-income countries. This is done by evaluating a life skills training based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), one of the most effective interventions for reducing stress, anxiety and depressive mood.

This study asks:

  • Whether offering CBT is cost-effective compared to Empathetic Listening (active control group receiving emotional support only).
  • If the programme could pay for itself via increased productivity and attendance.
  • Whether factories would implement a similar programme on their own.

Female line operators in garment factories in Bangladesh will receive ten individual, face-to-face one-hour sessions of CBT over the course of ten weeks. The course combines psycho-education on the causes and effects of daily stress and exercises to develop problem-solving and priority-setting skills, increase self-esteem, and learn mindfulness and relaxation techniques. The study measures individual within-day productivity, absenteeism, and turnover using factory data. Self-reported levels of anxiety and depression will be measured before and after treatment takes place. This will be complemented with measures of hair cortisol, a widely used biomarker for stress.

The results will be relevant to multi-national apparel brands that are interested in improving the working conditions in their supply chain. They will also inform the debate among governmental agencies and international development organisations on how to equip workers in low-income countries with skills that enable them to access better quality jobs and improve their living standards.

In the long-run, the full solution to improving well-being and economic prospects involves addressing the fundamental causes of stress. This approach is complementary to projects providing support for daily burdens, such as improved sanitation and childcare services in the communities where these workers live and work.