1How are the International Labour Organisation (ILO)/Better Work responding to the global crisis?

  • Better Work is engaged in ongoing discussions with brands, unions, employers, governments, international financial institutions (including development banks), multi-stakeholder initiatives and others to develop a coordinated response to the crisis the apparel industry is currently facing. A response will need to include short term responses to protect workers’ health and immediate financial needs, medium term  responses to protect jobs and re-employ workers,  and long term interventions to ensure strengthening of national social protection mechanisms in the most vulnerable apparel producing countries.  These conversations are evolving as industry stakeholders work to move as quickly as possible toward shared solutions.
  • Better Work, together with technical departments across the ILO, are providing guidance for stakeholders including, but not limited to: Recommendations on retrenchment; guidelines on migrant workers; national social protection responses; information on sick pay/benefits and unemployment support; guidelines for Labour Inspectors on requirements for safe reopening of facilities. All resources will be available on the BW COVID-19 response page and the ILO website.

2What is Better Work seeing in terms of the impact of the crisis specifically on women?

The health and economic impacts affecting all workers is falling disproportionately on women. In particular, key issues include pressure on healthcare systems and redistribution of government spending away from  services that support women; the impact of school closures limiting ability to continue to work – if available – or look for other work; pressure to find other sources of income (which may be unsafe); travel restrictions preventing women returning home to care for their families and/or being vulnerable in their temporary living quarters and; an increase in violence against women.  Better Work is working with partner organisations (Empower@Work and CARE International) to identify how industry stakeholders can support women with both information and interventions to mitigate these impacts. More information is available at: https://www.empoweratwork.org/

3How is Better Work adapting factory operations and supporting factories and other stakeholders to respond to the crisis?

Better Work is seeing serious disruption at all levels of the supply chain. We have adapted our factory services and are acting quickly to leverage our reach and technical expertise to address the immediate and urgent needs of workers, managers, national governments, and buyers. While every national context is different, programmes are focused on the following:

  • Providing factory services remotely (if necessary), e.g. virtual advisory and Industry Seminars (focused around emergency preparedness, preventing spread of infection/response to the pandemic) and use of distance learning and mobile technologies.
  • Mass circulation to factories of World Health Organisation and International Labour Organisation health and safety guidance(in local languages and in a simple and actionable form) and supporting Workplace Safety Committees to develop action plans and robust, risk based systems.
  • Providing advice to factories and brands facing unexpected compliance issues resulting from closures, temporary or permanent layoffs, payment of wages, extended sick leave, delays in raw material delivery or transportation and/or closures of ports or customs processing facilities. Advice includes legal guidance provided by both national law and international standards related to: hours and wages, avoiding discrimination and harassment as well as social security safety nets. Better Work is actively promoting social dialogue in the factories to ensure workers are informed and consulted on their employment and steps for protection/containment.
  • Coordinating information campaigns and training with the World Health Organisation for national partners, including Ministries of Labour, employers and workers organizations.
  • Convening all actors at the country level to develop shared action and contingency plans for the sector.

4What do Better Work adapted factory services look like?

  • Assessments in most countries are temporarily on hold. Buyers can obtain updated factory information on the status of issues and progress to date through accessing a factory’s live Improvement Plan and Progress Reports on the Better Work portal.
  • In person Advisory visits are in most countries being replaced by tailored virtual advisory ‘visits’ consisting of 1-2 hour video calls. These ‘virtual visits’ include working with both management and worker representatives primarily focusing on:
  • Providing local language guidance for management and workers (e.g. World Health Organisation Guidelines) on prevention and response to Covid-19.
  • Providing support to factories on associated social compliance issues related to Human Resources, Occupational Safety and Health and emergency preparedness, migrant workers etc.
  • Mobile technologies for Worker Surveys are being explored as a means of gathering data on worker well-being and to connect workers to one another.
  • Individual factory’s live Improvement Plan and Progress Reports continue to be updated and can be accessed via the Better Work portal.
  • Virtual training is underway in many countries, with other countries to follow. Plans for additional online training in new formats are in development.

5How will BW verify the correct payments/processes for layoffs while Better Work staff cannot visit factories

Where Better Work cannot visit factories, we are providing advice and joining worker management meetings virtually. We are also reviewing the documentation provided. We will verify these issues in person as soon as we are able to visit factories again. We are also working with national authorities to gain clarity on relevant national laws so that we can share those with all industry stakeholders.

6If factories temporarily shut down what is the protocol for reopening in a safe way?

Better Work is working with other departments in the International Labour Organisation to produce a checklist for labour administrations on how to reopen factories in way that protects the health and safety of all workers and management.

7Where can I find Country Specific Updates?

Country specific updates can be found at the bottom of the Better Work COVID 19 response page.

8Will Better Work reduce fees for factories where services are suspended or delayed?

The current focus where factories remain open is on maintaining services virtually and through creating industry wide responses to the pandemic in each country.

For those factories who experience temporary closure (either due to national restrictions, health reasons or reduced/cancelled orders), we are working on scenarios which may include extension of cycle length and/or reduced fees depending on how the situation develops over the coming weeks/months.

9Will Better Work extend the expiry date for buyer portal credits, since visits and reports may not now be delivered within a 12 month timeframe?

Better Work’s focus is on supporting the industry, and while some in-person factory visits are still not possible, our country teams are busier than ever supporting factories and constituents (virtually if not in-person) in response to the crisis.

We have implemented adjustments to our advisory and training services and where possible introduced alternatives to assessments and reporting e.g. Virtual Compliance Checks with accompanying reports on the portal. Buyers can unlock factory report cycles to view available information, any additional reports or updates due to service rescheduling will be uploaded into those same report cycles as soon as available. Credit expiry date remains 31st December of the year of purchase.

10What can buyers do if assessments are suspended and assessment reports are delayed?

Buyers are urged to show flexibility and ensure factories are not punished for not meeting audit or reporting schedules.  There are other ways to get updates on factory progress that can be accessed via the Better Work portal including: virtual compliance check reports, live Improvement Plans including factory updates on publicly reported issues, training plans and Progress Reports. Better Work staff will do all they can to verify information provided by factories by reviewing documents and interviewing joint worker management committee members.

11What can/should brands do in the short term to support factories?

  • Engage transparently with supply chain partners on current and future plans to avert job losses.
  • Follow responsible retrenchment guidelines if job losses are unavoidable.
  • Refer to national laws for provisions on disruption to hours and wages.
  • Show flexibility and proceed with purchases despite delays in assessments or reports. Use the other information available on the Better Work portal e.g. Improvement Plan or Progress Reports.
  • Avoid scenarios that put additional pressure on factories such as asking them to hold merchandise already produced, hold/store materials for cancelled or delayed orders or, hold shipments in ports.
  • Provide additional direct support to factories/workers where you can e.g. via more flexible payment terms or support in maintaining social security contributions.

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