Stories

Ririh and the pink room: How investing in breastfeeding facilities benefits workers, their babies and business

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Ririh’s story

Crouched in a small, concrete toilet stall in a bustling garment factory in Indonesia’s Central Java province, Ririh unbuttons her floral blouse and takes out her manual breast pump. The space is neither comfortable nor particularly hygienic but she makes do.

It’s 2014 and Ririh has just returned to her job as a cutting operator after the birth of her first child and is determined to provide her own milk for the baby, conscious that it is not only best for the little girl’s health, but also an economical choice for her family.

Despite Ririh’s conviction, the lack of pumping facilities at her workplace make breastfeeding hard, and she reluctantly resorts to formula much sooner that she would have liked.

“It just became too much of a challenge,” says Ririh sadly.

Flash forward three years, and 27-year-old Ririh has now been at the factory for nearly nine years and given birth to her second child, a boy. The picture looks quite different.

During a paid break, Ririh heads to the dedicated breastfeeding room at a time of her convenience, for as long and as often as she needs. The room is painted a cheery pink and is lined with comfortable chairs and colourful information pamphlets in the local language, Bahasa Indonesian. Relaxing music plays softly from a CD player in the corner.

More than 95 per cent of the factory’s 14,500 workers are women so—perhaps unsurprisingly—seven or eight other women come and go in the breastfeeding room while Ririh is there, heading to the fridge to store expressed milk in bottles marked with their name as they leave.

Close by in the medical clinic, four dedicated nurses and two doctors work in shifts to answer workers’ questions and provide check-ups. A peer-to-peer breastfeeding programme also counsels women during pregnancy and after birth, spreading awareness about the benefits of nursing via in-person visits and 10am announcements on the factory’s intercom. There is even lunchtime pre-natal yoga on offer twice per month.

“I feel so supported not only by family but also by management and everyone around me at work,” Ririh says. “I plan to breastfeed until my son is two.”

Change driven by dialogue

This striking change is just one of several that the factory, Ungaran Sari Garments, has undergone in recent years. The improvements have won them business with well-known international companies like Ann Inc. and PVH (who own brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger) as well as recognition as one of Better Work Indonesia’s first high-performing factories.

To be categorized by Better Work as a high-performing factory, Ungaran had to demonstrate not only high levels of compliance with national and international labour standards, effective workplace management systems and a full commitment to staff learning, but also advanced worker-management dialogue.

And it is exactly this worker-management dialogue that seems to be behind Ungaran’s modern amenities and the changes that Ririh has experienced first-hand.

Timbul Juriyah, a Warehouse Supervisor and Head of the Peer Educator Breastfeeding Programme, explains. “It was one of my team who inspired me to advocate for a breastfeeding programme in the factory. She came to me complaining so I brought this issue to our monthly worker-management committee meeting and requested action.” In Indonesia, committees like this one are required by national law.

As it does across Indonesia and in seven other countries, Better Work supports worker-management committees like Timbul’s through regular advisory visits, trainings and by sharing tools and tried-and-tested approaches from other factories. All this because the programme’s research and on-the-ground experience have clearly shown that free and fair elections of committee representatives, a climate of mutual respect and mechanisms for consultation benefit workers and businesses alike.

Better for business, better for babies                                 

This is certainly borne out in Ungaran’s case.

The factory was quick to approve the committee’s requests for better facilities, later using annual surveys to seek worker feedback and progressively improve services for pregnant and breastfeeding employees.

The firm’s ethos prioritizes the wellbeing of workers but, still, benefits to the bottom line were key to management’s support. And, in a firm with 12,100 machines and impressive 2.45 million pieces of clothing produced per month, perhaps it is not surprising that the numbers matter.

“With the implementation of women’s wellbeing programmes, absenteeism and employee turnover have decreased and remained at low levels. Turnover is currently between 1.7 and 1.8 per cent.” says Nur Arifin, who heads up the factory’s Human Resources department.

“When workers feel they matter, we notice they work more enthusiastically. They put their hearts into the job and give their full commitment to the company. With more loyal and dedicated workers the company’s productivity automatically increases. If we look at the history of our company we can clearly see this: when we started in 1975 we only had 200 employees; right now, we have around 14,500.”

“When we take care of our employees, employees take care of our business in return,” Nur summarizes. “Based on this attitude, customers see us as good partners to do business with. This is what we call the pyramid of success: employees are happy, customers are happy and the management is happy.”

As Ririh finishes up her day’s work, she passes by the pink breastfeeding room to pick up the milk she expressed earlier and leaves the factory. As evening falls and Ririh, Timbul and Nur head home to their families, they all look content with their busy day’s work. But no one is happier than Ririh’s son when his mother comes through the door with dinner.

Better Work is a flagship programme of the UN’s International Labour Organization, jointly managed by the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group. Better Work brings together government, employers, workers and international brands to improve working conditions and competitiveness in the global garment industry.

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