Better Work – a collaboration between the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group – is a comprehensive programme bringing together all levels of the garment industry to improve working conditions and respect of labour rights for workers, and boost the competitiveness of apparel businesses.
As a result of their participation with Better Work, factories have steadily improved compliance with ILO core labour standards and national legislation covering compensation, contracts, occupational safety and health and working time. This has significantly improved working conditions and, at the same time enhanced factories’ productivity and profitability.
Currently, the programme is active in 1300 factories employing more than 1.6 million workers in seven countries. As well as advising factories, Better Work collaborates with governments to improve labour laws, and with brands to ensure progress is sustained. We also advise unions on how to give workers a greater say in their lives, and work with donors to help achieve their broader development goals.
Our vision is that by 2017 Better Work will have improved the lives of at least three million workers and millions more of their family members. We will achieve this by driving sector-wide sustainable improvement in adherence to national labour law and core labour standards and by strengthening business competitiveness in major garment producing countries.
Background: Building a unique partnership in Cambodia
Better Work was inspired by the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia project. Introduced in 2001, the project was developed to improve working conditions in Cambodia’s export apparel industry. Originally, the project was linked to an innovative trade agreement with the United States that provided market access in return for improving working conditions in the garment sector.
After the expiration of the trade agreement in 2004, the Cambodian Government, together with unions and employers, requested that the ILO set up a sustainability strategy to turn Better Factories Cambodia into a self-financing local institution. The ILO teamed up with IFC to design and implement this strategy.
Building on the lessons and successes of Better Factories Cambodia, Better Work was established in 2009 to help address the challenges faced by actors in global supply chains, such as international buyers eager to reduce costs and audit fatigue, and enterprises looking to increase competitiveness to maintain access to global markets.