Understanding impact: Research insights from Better Work 2017-2022

4 Nov 2022

The global garment industry has the potential to contribute to job-rich growth, which is well-recognized as a key element for recovery from recent global shocks and to a human-centred future of work. At the same time, if the millions of jobs in this sector are not decent and well regulated, workers risk exploitative conditions that keep them further from social and economic development. Better Work, a joint initiative of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), works in 12 garment producing countries to raise compliance with international labour standards and national laws, while also improving the competitiveness of participating firms. It combines compliance assessments in factories with advisory services and training at the factory and industry levels. The programme focuses on communication and social dialogue both at the workplace and sector-wide to support its dual aims. As the ILO’s flagship programme for the garment industry, Better Work builds on the Organization’s tripartite structure of engagement with national governments, employers’ organizations and workers’ organizations, and it combines this with a strong partnership with global supply chain actors, such as global brands, retailers, and global manufacturers. The ILO’s convening role, and expertise in the sector, can be leveraged in conjunction with government agencies and labour inspectorates, employers’ associations and trade unions, as well as firms in the supply chain in order to build their capacity, facilitate and strengthen social dialogue, promote the gradual transition to formality and help build resilience through stronger systems of social protection.

Since the early stages of the programme, Better Work has invested in impact evaluation research to identify the causal impact of the programme’s activities in the global garment sector on working conditions, firm performance, and the socioeconomic status of workers and their families. Impact evaluations identified and quantified the positive outcomes driven by Better Work in workers’ lives, within and outside the workplace, and in businesses’ productivity and profitability.

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Better Work’s impact

  • The holistic, factory-level interventions from Better Work lead to improved working conditions and empowered workers
  • Workers in Better Work factories experience better working conditions, workplace communication and conditions for social dialogue than peers in non-enrolled factories
  • Workers in Better Work factories report higher pay and fewer hours of work, driven by higher compliance with legal regulations
  • Better Work’s interventions contribute to curbing sexual harassment, a pervasive industry problem
  • Training to improve women’s empowerment and workplace leadership must be complemented by addressing social norms
  • Enforcement of maternity protection benefits can help close the gender pay gap
  • Better Work’s compliance assessments and advisory activities help vulnerable workers the most,including women with childcare responsibilities
  • Firms enrolled in Better Work gain in revenue and profitability, both through higher export volumes and higher prices
  • Better Work has successfully harnessed trade policy incentives to drive better labour governance
  • Better Work’s impact can be extended through the capacity building of supply chain actors

The development potential of garment jobs

  • Garment jobs with improved working conditions empower workers, leading to better workplace communication, mature social dialogue, better pay, and fewer working hours
  • With decent working conditions, worker retention improves, and workers view garment jobs as a long-term career option for investing in themselves and their families
  • Curbing sexual harassment, building leadership skills for women, and enforcing maternity protection benefits drive women’s empowerment and helps close the gender pay gap but must be complemented by addressing social norms
  • Workplace unionization and collective bargaining are associated with better working conditions related to salaries and benefits, contracts, occupational safety and health (OSH), and welfare standards
  • There is a business case for better working conditions, driven by higher export volumes and higher prices set by the supply chain
  • Transparency of factory non-compliance drives better working conditions
  • Trade policy incentives can be harnessed to support good labour governance

Key development partners to Better Work are (in alphabetical order):
Australia (Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, DFAT)
Denmark (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Danida)
European Commission (Department for International Partnerships, INTPA)
Germany (Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, BMZ)
Netherlands (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, MFA)
Switzerland (State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, SECO)
United States (US Department of Labor, USDOL)

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