Nuts team at ofi supporting female employees in Vietnam with workplace lactation programs
As part of ofi’s workforce nutrition initiatives and our Cashew Trail sustainability strategy, our nuts team in Vietnam is partnering with Alive & Thrive (A&T), to develop workplace lactation programs in their 11 factories across the country. A&T is an initiative to save lives, prevent illness, and ensure healthy growth and development. The A&T initiative, managed by FHI Solutions, is currently funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Government of Ireland, UNICEF, the World Bank, and other donors. The workplace lactation programs aim to provide female employees who wish to continue breastfeeding when returning to work, the Space, Time, and Support they need to do so.
- Space: On-site lactation rooms provide a clean, private space for mothers to express and store breastmilk, or breastfeed.
- Time: Sufficient lactation breaks provide mothers the opportunity to express and store their breastmilk or take the necessary time to breastfeed.
- Support: Having a workplace culture that is supportive of breastfeeding helps mothers feel comfortable taking breaks to express breastmilk or breastfeed.
As a starting point, throughout April and May 2022, the ofi and A&T team conducted a baseline assessment at all worksites to gain an understanding of female employees’ knowledge and attitudes towards breastfeeding, and to identify ways in which mothers who wish to breastfeed could be better supported in the workplace.
According to UNICEF, breastfeeding support in the workplace positively impacts employee retention1. This position was echoed in the baseline study findings which showed that, on average, across the 11 factories that do not currently have breastfeeding support, only 65% of female employees had returned to work after maternity leave; a rate that is lower than the factories’ overall average staff retention rate of 85%2.
According to WHO, it is recommended that mothers should breastfeed their child exclusively for the first six months and continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary feeding up to two years of age or beyond. However, the findings showed that of the total 2,609 female employees, only 56% are aware of these recommendations.
In May 2022, A&T began conducting individual and group counselling sessions via an online platform with all female ofi employees in Vietnam facilities. During these sessions, employees were able to ask questions and raise concerns related to breastfeeding practices. The ofi and A&T teams also aimed to address specific barriers to ensuring breastfeeding-friendly workplaces that had been cited by female employees. During the baseline assessment, it was found that more than half of breastfeeding staff did not utilize the designated lactation room. Reasons for this included they were not aware of the lactation room, the benefits of breastfeeding, they had ceased breastfeeding in order to return to work, they did not know about the available equipment or how to use it, and/or that they did not feel comfortable using the room as it was not possible to indicate when the room was occupied.
To address these barriers, the program has also included in-person training sessions in the lactation room, where female employees wishing to learn more about how to breastfeed or express breastmilk are able to ask questions and receive step-by-step instructions on using the available equipment. In factories where possible privacy concerns had been raised, female employees and management agreed on a strategy whereby visible signage would be installed on the doors of the lactation rooms to inform passersby when the room is occupied. It was also agreed that infirmary staff would remain nearby while the room is in use, to provide extra assurance to mothers.
In the coming months, counseling and discussions will continue via an online platform, and the A&T doctor will conduct outreach to female employees to provide further support. In parallel, the team is continuing to take actions to ensure all lactation rooms have the necessary equipment and amenities to support breastfeeding mothers.