Suraiya Haque, Phulki

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Source: Ashoka

Suraiya Haque is addressing the issue of work place based day care centers in Bangladesh. She has developed and implemented working models for factories, offices, and community based centers. Her organization also provides training on management of day care centers so that the factories and offices are eventually able to run the centers themselves.

CASE STUDY: Bringing the Children to Work

Organizational Vision

The 1965 Factory Act in Bangladesh mandates that if a factory employs more than fifty women, management must provide childcare facilities. Unfortunately, because factory owners think childcare centers increase costs and hamper business interests, without legal coercion, they have shown little interest in adhering to the Factory Act. That is until Ashoka Fellow Suraiya Haque founder of Phulki (means Spark in Bengali), took the initiative to prove that compliance with this law would actually be more profitable for factories in the long run. She established Phulki “to create a world where working women do not have to sacrifice their children's well-being in order to achieve economic emancipation.” With over 1.5 million women working within the garment industry in Bangladesh, bringing factory owners into compliance with the law provided the impetus to meet that mission. Haque launched her childcare model in 1991 with one factory owner – a friend with whom she knew she shared a common social philosophy. This pilot triggered the development of 30 more centers that Phulki operates on a consultancy basis. The Phulki model’s success is evident: Haque has institutionalized the practice of installing worker-friendly child care centers in the factories supplying leading multinational corporations to be in compliance with standards of operation in Bangladesh. Today, Haque is poised to become one of the world’s champions of worker rights in Asia.

Citizen Base Strategy

Share financial and resource responsibility with stakeholders

Haque envisioned factory-based child care centers to be a joint effort between parents and employers, sharing costs and effort. Haque’s sustainability strategy was based on factory owners baring the majority of the financial burden. When Phulki comes into a factory, they charge an initial consultancy fee, for which they launch and manage the center for one month, covering all costs. After six months, the factory has the option of taking over the day care completely, or they can cover expenses and continue to pay Phulki a management fee. Phulki’s designed phase-out approach and its fee-structure transfers the responsibility for child care to the factory and the parents, where the initial mandate intended it should be. Parents pay a nominal fee of Taka 50 (US $1) per child per month. Initially, Phulki supplied some funding to demonstrate the concept, but today, the program is supported entirely by the factory and the working mothers. “I don’t believe in free services,” says Haque. “The mothers paid from the beginning. We wanted them to feel: ‘My child is my responsibility and I must take care of them.’ They have no voice if the service is free – the owners will dictate terms. A sense of ownership and partnership would not be there.” Haque never wanted Phulki to be a full-time service-provider, but rather a consultancy to oversee the implementation and integration of the child care centers into factory life. Without having to bear this responsibility, Phulki could then do what it did best, spread its day care model into other non-compliant factories. The model also called for parents to provide meals for the children and be involved in the management of the centers through regular participation in the monthly meetings. Today, each of these day care facilities is completely sustained by these efforts, and Phulki predicts its own complete financial independence within ten years.

Document activities to provide credible measurements

Haque knows that engaging effective partnerships to further her expansion plans requires credible measurements and real numbers. Phulki documented each step of the process, while slowly expanding from its pilot to two and then three more factories – reviewing and recording results along the way. Haque’s measurements demonstrate that when a mother stayed home to take care of a child, her absence costs the factory incurs a cost of about 30% of the mother’s salary to find a substitute and to compensate for a potentially less productive laborer. When multiplied over a factory population, the cost of childcare was essentially the same as the cost of absenteeism. Factories with Phulki day care centers reported less absenteeism or loss of skilled workers due to fewer child care problems. In addition, Haque states there is an intangible, increased quality of production that the factory would receive when a mother knew her child was well cared for. As one factory owner explained, “There has been a great impact amongst all the workers in the way they view [our company]. There is a greater sense of belonging….The presence of the children has made us a family. And because there are children on site, all our workers are more conscious of safety precautions.” It should be noted that while the government did not have effective enforcement means to penalize factory owners for their non-compliance of the mandate, parental absenteeism was proving costly in ways beyond direct costs. Increased international concerns about local labor conditions were pressuring the traditional manufacturing system to comply with new standards. As an outcome, Phulki is now an accredited paid monitor of the Fair Labour Association, evaluating each factory's code of compliance for the FLA to suggest ways to improve the factory’s facilities.

Take Advantage of Shifts in Current Economic Consciousness

With the new world trade environment and businesses moving toward social auditing and responsible labor practices, Haque leveraged her opportunity to advance factory-based day care on a wider scale. She started a letter campaign targeted directly at international garment companies like Nike, urging them to ensure that goods bought from Bangladeshi manufacturers were compliant with the labor law requiring childcare. “Some replied. Some didn’t. But I kept at it,” she recalls. In July 2000, she traveled to the US to meet with over fifteen different organizations, including such well-known clothing manufacturers as Reebok, the Gap, Sears, and Wal-Mart. As a direct result of these meetings, Haque convinced Reebok and Wal-Mart senior executives to include the provision of childcare as one of their compliance standards for their overseas manufacturers. In dialogue with factory owners, Haque uses a combination of plain speak and persuasion. “I show them how there are economic benefits. Then I say: ‘Think of your international reputation.’ I tell them: ‘You don’t want Bangladesh to be known for exploitation.’” Haque’s international lobbying efforts proved her intellectual prowess and simultaneous ability to act as someone who understands supply chain economics and think from business bottom-line perspective. Haque’s presence on the international level demands the attention of business outside of Bangladesh—applying pressure to multi-national companies with operations these to impose standards down to local factories. Global consumers increasingly demand responsible labor practices. Phulki childcare centers help factories meet these criteria.

Engage Your Critics through Beneficial Innovation

Haque has encountered some resentment from garment manufacturers who perceive an unfair standard is being levied on them by their multi-national corporate customers who must abide by stricter labor laws. She responds with an innovative solution that helps them see the issue differently. She suggests that garment companies introduce a clothes-tag saying a small fraction of the cost will be funneled directly to welfare projects for workers in manufacturing countries. Haque is 100% confident that everyone will pay one cent, even in Bangladesh. Her eyes twinkle. “People will be proud to buy… and if [the manufacturers] are clever with marketing, they will sell even MORE jeans!” The factories win, the parents win and the customers are winners, too.

How It’s Working

  • Phulki has opened 30 factory-based centers that provide daycare to over 40 garment factories (one daycare provides services to more than one factory), some serving as many as 2500 employees.
  • Factory owners operate six of these childcare facilities on their own.
  • Owners and mothers cover 100% of the cost incurred for running the centers.
  • Phulki predicts complete financial independence in the next 10 years.
  • Phulki consults government offices, the banking sector, hospitals and other citizen sector organizations with child care facilities based on its model to ensure they adhere to the principles of the Factory Act and their buyers

Lessons Learned

  • Look globally. Use international reputation as leverage to open the door to demonstrate economic benefits.
  • Share costs with stakeholders. When all participants contribute financially, everyone has ownership and partnership in the process.
  • Make participation easy. Initiate cost recovery and phase-out schemes while developing expansion plans. Handing-over operational responsibilities frees an entrepreneur to concentrate on innovation and concept extension.


Suraiya Haque was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1991.