Employment opportunities for people with disabilities are limited in Mongolia, as they are in many countries. In this landlocked country of 3.4 million people, 42% of households with people with disabilities live in poverty, compared with 18% of households with persons without disabilities. Despite the Mongolian Law on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that came into effect in 2016, employees with disabilities are not common in the Mongolian workforce.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zulbaatar Gansuren is one of those with a job.
Employed as a cook at a recently-opened restaurant operated by Tavan Bogd Foods in Ulaanbaatar’s Songinokhairkhan District, Mr. Gansuren has been completely deaf following an illness when he was one month old.
Like many Mongolians, Mr. Gansuren was jobless during the pandemic. Working at Tavan Bogd Foods since March 2023, he said, gives him hope for a better life.
"This company treats everyone equally, whether or not one has a disability. They also help us communicate better with our colleagues. We have a growing family here of people with disabilities, which gives us a sense of belonging. We have great employment benefits, as well. I want to work here for a long time," said Mr. Gansuren, communicating through Mongolian sign language.
In 2022, ADB provided an $18 million loan to Ulaanbaatar Flour, Tavan Bogd Foods, and Tavan Bogd Foods Pizza for the Tavan Bogd COVID-19 Food Security and Inclusive Job Creation Project in Mongolia. This followed a $15-million loan in 2020 to Ulaanbaatar Flour and Tavan Bogd Foods to sustain their operations during the pandemic.
ADB’s funding helps ensure a stable supply of wheat flour, the main staple in Mongolia, and mitigate disruptions to the food supply chain while expanding the number of quick service restaurants.
Tavan Bogd Foods aims to use the financing to sustain the operation of its restaurants, and construct four additional branches and a warehouse. The funds will also support its efforts to foster a more disability and gender-inclusive workforce, aligning with ADB’s road map for strengthening disability-inclusive development. ADB committed at the first Global Disability Summit in 2018 to develop a practical pathway for greater disability inclusion in its projects, research, and organizational systems.
By supporting the three companies, ADB helps to preserve the livelihoods of 6,000 wheat farmers and farm workers, as well as 1,250 employees, and generate at least 358 new jobs by 2025.
Before the project, Tavan Bogd Foods had 12 stores with 486 workers. By April 2023, the company had built two new restaurants on the outskirts of the capital Ulaanbaatar and hired 102 new staff, 55 of them women and 15 people with visual, hearing and mobility impairments, and of short stature.
Since the start of the project, recruitment of people with disabilities at Tavan Bogd Foods has increased by 68%, representing 6.6% of the company’s workforce. This complies with the requirement under the Mongolian Labor Code that people with disabilities comprise at least 4% of a company’s workforce.
This recruitment drive is providing tangible benefits to the livelihoods of new hires. Tavan Bogd Foods provides all employees with accident and health insurance including an annual health checkup. Between 2020 and 2022, staff salaries were increased four times, each time by at least 10%.
The new jobs are complemented by extra efforts to provide an inclusive workplace. Ganbat Danzanbaatar, Tavan Bogd Foods chief executive officer, says communication can be a major barrier for employees with disabilities especially if a company does not adopt ways of communicating beyond the spoken word. Sixty three restaurant managers who communicate directly with employees with hearing disabilities have been trained to use sign language since the start of the ADB project.
"Communication barriers exist because businesses only communicate verbally. At Tavan Bogd Foods, we make extra efforts to communicate through other means, like writing and sign language," said Mr. Danzanbaatar. "When we hold company employee meetings, we engage a sign language translator. By being inclusive in the way we communicate, the treatment of people with disabilities has improved."
The project also enabled Tavan Bogd Foods to modernize its services to help employees and customers, including by digitalizing the purchase order system and establishing self-order kiosks in every store. For orders made online, food is delivered by electric vehicles, offering greater rider comfort and lower air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Mr. Danzanbaatar said it is company policy to provide equal and accessible opportunities for all staff, especially people with disabilities and women. Tavan Bogd Foods works with the We Can project, an organization promoting accessible employment and more jobs for people with disabilities. The company also has an Invite your friend campaign to encourage employees to invite friends with disabilities to apply for jobs at Tavan Bogd Foods.
"In our company there are no barriers in the workplace," Mr. Danzanbaatar said. "We have jobs for people with disabilities and for women that match their circumstances and create equal opportunities for them to enter and excel in the workforce. In this way, we help them have the same income and quality of life as others."
Over 200 million people in the region lived on less than $1.90 a day and around 1 billion on less than $3.20 a day in 2017. Inequality continues to grow.
The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed around 78 million people back into extreme poverty and created 168 million newly poor people, particularly in South Asia.
Ms. Sarangerel Erdene, 41, has been deaf since she was four and has worked at Tavan Bogd Foods for six years. In a society where, she says, many people don’t understand the challenges faced by people with disabilities, she finds a safe workplace at Tavan Bogd Foods.
"This company treats us well. Since I started working here, I have gained confidence in myself, and I feel more valued."