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Workforce Nutrition in the Spotlight at Pre-Summit of United Nations Food Systems Summit

Geneva, 5 August 2021 -- This year is a critical year for efforts to combat global malnutrition, as 2021 marks the halfway point in the United Nations (UN) Decade of Action on Nutrition, while the UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) is set to take place in September and the Nutrition for Growth Summit in December.

The UNFSS Pre-Summit took place from 26-28 July, bringing stakeholders together to advance commitments, and serving as a mechanism to build momentum. On day two of the pre-summit, the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) and the Government of Bangladesh’s Ministry of Labour and Employment co-hosted a UNFSS Pre-Summit Affiliated Session on Workforce Nutrition as a lever of change to reach millions of employees worldwide with healthy nutrition.

The session’s expert panelists jointly recognized workforce nutrition as a “win-win-win” for productive companies, healthy employees and strong economies. They also jointly recognized that the private sector, public sector and civil society/NGOs need to work together to create enabling environments for workforce nutrition, while the session concluded with a clear call to action that all can and should raise their levels of ambition on implementation of workforce nutrition programmes to accelerate action and drive impact at scale.

The Honourable Secretary K M Abdus Salam, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of Bangladesh opened the session with a keynote address calling for increased ambition on workforce nutrition, that could bring healthy nutrition to “everyone, everywhere.” 

The CGF’s Managing Director, Wai-Chan Chan highlighted that investing in workforce nutrition is not only the responsible thing for employers to do, it also leads to healthier business, and urged CGF member companies to make commitments to adopt workforce nutrition programmes, saying, “The role of the private sector can be quite huge in this…There’s a clear case for the industry to play an active role.”

GAIN Executive Director Lawrence Haddad raised the points that “Decent work should include decent nutrition,” and that “Healthy supply chains are not only a “right” thing to do, they are also a “smart” thing to do.” He also made a point to highlight the need for employers to “create a safe comfortable secure breastfeeding space” for employees, calling it “not complicated” to achieve.

International Labour Organization Director of the Sectoral Policies Department Alette van Leur concurred with Haddad, noting that “the availability of and access to food is intrinsically linked to the world of work,” and highlighting that “We know that poor nutrition effects not only health, but also livelihoods and productivity.”

SUN Movement Coordinator and United Nations Assistant Secretary-General Gerda Verburg stood out as a very vocal proponent of workforce nutrition and for ramped up ambition from the private sector and other stakeholders, saying “workforce nutrition is a great tool to improve nutrition. It’s a step towards a solution… that serves the people and the planet alike,” and asking the group “why can only 3 million employees be reached by 2025? Is this really the best we can deliver given the big, big problems? …always ask yourself how can we do better.”

Olam International CEO Sunny Verghese demonstrated the strong commitment of his company to workforce nutrition, noting that “At OLAM we employ about 90 thousand people and by 2023 workforce nutrition will be available to all of our workforce.”

Deborah Ash of the NGO Alive and Thrive highlighted the importance of workforce nutrition breastfeeding programmes as not just as critical to infants but also valuable to employers and employees, saying, “We know form robust global evidence that breastfeeding provides benefits. Breastfeeding reduces absenteeism in employees because their infants get ill less often. It’s not only a business case perspective, employers see employee productivity increase.”

Unilever Global Sustainability Director Anjalli Ravi Kumar noted that “We at Unilever have invested in workforce nutrition for over 20 years,” and that “Unilever sees its commitment to workforce nutrition as an investment with a positive return.”

The event closed with key outcome highlights on the business case, and a call to action for all employers to ask themselves what more they can do, and to commit to amplifying their efforts to drive better nutrition in the workplace.

The event was supported by the Workforce Nutrition Alliance, co-founded by GAIN and The Consumer Goods Forum. The Alliance works to bring access to and knowledge about healthy nutrition to more than three million employees, as well as their families, in member organisations and supply chains by 2025.

Workforce nutrition is considered as a game-changer tool by the 2021 edition of the UNFSS to achieve Sustainable Development Goals 2.1 and 2.2, ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition. The Pre-Summit Affiliated Session marked a key opportunity to foster critical multi-stakeholder discussions on this global challenge.

The session was moderated by GAIN Executive Director Lawrence Haddad, and included the participation of:

  • The Honourable Secretary K M Abdus Salam, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of Bangladesh
  • Gerda Verburg, United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, Coordinator of the Scaling Up Nutrition (SUN) Movement, UNFSS Advisory Committee
  • Wai-Chan Chan, Managing Director, The Consumer Goods Forum
  • Sunny Verghese, WBCSD Chair, Co-Founder and Group CEO of Olam International Ltd.
  • Debrorah Ash, Senior Technical Advisor, Alive & Thrive
  • Alette van Leur, Director of the Sectoral Policies Department, ILO
  • Anjalli Ravi Kumar, Global Sustainabilty Director - Health & Wellbeing, Unilever


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Statement from The Honourable Secretary K M Abdus Salam, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Government of Bangladesh