Progress and potential: Improved working conditions in the apparel industry make workers’ lives better and businesses stronger

An independent review of the Better Work programme shows significant gains in quality of life for workers in factories they advise, as well as enhanced productivity and profitability for those businesses involved.

Press release | Jakarta, Indonesia | 06 October 2016
JAKARTA (ILO News) – A joint International Labour Organization and International Finance Corporation programme has dramatically improved working conditions in hundreds of garment factories across seven developing countries, an independent review has shown.

According to the study by Tufts University, the Better Work programme moves factories away from practices leading to long working hours, extremely low pay, dismissal threats, or abuse of probationary contracts. Workers are seeing an increase in their weekly take-home pay and are less and less concerned with excessive overtime and poor wages.

The review also notes progress in closing the gender pay gap, particularly among garment factories receiving Better Work advisory services in Haiti, Nicaragua and Vietnam.

The programme has made significant progress in diminishing coercive labour practices and limiting harassment and verbal abuse. In Jordan reports of sexual harassment fell by 18 per cent and the incidence of workers feeling fearful in the workplace declined markedly as well.

Training women supervisors – a shortcut to big gains

Researchers found that Better Work’s Supervisory Skills Training (SST) is a very effective strategy for improving working conditions, and empowering women in the industry. The analysis showed that production lines overseen by Supervisory Skills-trained female line supervisors increased factory productivity by 22 per cent, when compared to lines overseen by supervisors who had not yet received such training.

Business benefits

The report concludes that these gains in working conditions do not come at the expense of business performance. The research establishes a direct link between better working conditions and higher profit firms. Across all factories tracked in Vietnam, after four years of participation with Better Work, average profitability increased by 25 per cent.

“Evidence of a win-win outcome – improving working conditions while boosting profit margins – has to date largely been anecdotal. Tufts University’s impact assessment has made significant strides in establishing evidence of this relationship,” said Professor Drusilla Brown, lead author of the report

Key highlights from Better Work Indonesia (BWI)

Impact assessment results from Indonesia suggest significant progress has been made, with potential for further improvement. Almost 5,000 worker surveys and 590 management surveys were completed, between 2012 and 2015, in BWI factories. Main highlights, in terms of impact, include:
  • Greater job stability for workers, with the proportion of workers who say they hold permanent contracts (as opposed to short-time contracts) doubling
  • Increased awareness by workers of their rights and willingness to take serious concerns to trade unions
  • Reduced prevalence of verbal abuse
  • Measurable effects in take-home pay
  • Improved pre-natal care

About Better Work

Better Work, established in 2009 by the UN’s International Labour Organization and the International Finance Corporation, a member the World Bank Group, aims to improve working conditions and promote competitiveness in global garment supply chains. The programme operates in 7 countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Jordan, Haiti, and Nicaragua and currently engages 1300 factories employing more than 1.6 million workers.

The Better Work Global Programme is supported by the following key donor partners: Australia (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, DFAT); Denmark (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Danida); the Netherlands (Ministry of Foreign Affairs); Switzerland (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, SECO); and, the United States (US Department of Labor, USDOL).