A study of Better Work’s impact over time has shown improvements in garment sector working conditions, lifting the wellbeing of workers and their families and making businesses more competitive.
Managua – A longitudinal review of factory performance of the impact of Better Work since its inception in 2011 has found a trend of continuous improvement in garment factory working conditions. The report, Progress toward Sustainability, compared factories beginning the programme with those that have completed four cycles of Better Work assessment, advisory and training services. It found distinct progress in many fields of compliance with national labour law and international labour standards.
In assessing factories’ performance, Better Work considers eight areas or clusters of working conditions, one of which concerns contracting procedures. In short, all employees are entitled to be provided with a contract specifying terms and conditions of employment and it must be clear that all workers understand those terms and conditions. In this area of contracts, non-compliance fell a remarkable 67 percentage points – from 81 per cent in cycle one factories to 14 per cent in cycle four.
Other areas of notable improvement were in pay practices and overtime, with workers reporting weekly wages up by USD 16, but also concern about late and low payments and excess overtime reduced. On the core issue of worker’s freedom of association and freedom to collectively bargain, compliance also improved by around 10 per cent. Non-compliance with the national legislation for workers’ leave fell by over 80 per cent, with only three factories (13 per cent) out of compliance by cycle four.
Much of the progress in Nicaragua stems from Better Work’s collaborative approach with factory management. Better Work advises companies on how to correct issues, and strengthens management systems and empowers worker-management committees to identify and remediate problems internally. Blanca Peralta Paguaga, Better Work Nicaragua Programme Manager said of the report’s findings: “Most factories enrolled in the programme have been steady in their improvement and have enhanced their compliance with international and national labour laws. Today, our relationship is open and transparent. Managers have come to see us a partner; an organization committed to helping them out.”
The report also relied on quantitative data from surveys of workers and managers by Better Work’s team of advisors and independent researchers from Tufts University. On the issue of sexual harassment, the Tufts researchers found that greater awareness of the issue among management, as can be achieved through training, is associated with a 29 per cent decrease in worker’s concern with this type of abuse. They also concluded that improved employment security and stable employment relations positively affected access to improved education for workers’ children.
As in many countries, lifting occupational safety and health to international standards remains a challenging problem in Nicaragua. Some areas, however, did see significant progress over the four cycles, including in the treatment of hazardous chemicals, and emergency preparedness.
Engagement beyond factories has seen Better Work’s influence grow at the regional and national levels of government and business. “Whether it be through our Labour Law guide, our university-led training programmes for union representatives, or our cataloguing of best practices in leading factories, Better Work can point to a long list of industry tools and government policies where our intervention has been instrumental in producing lasting change,” said Paguaga.
Better Work, a collaboration of 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 eight countries: Bangladesh, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Jordan, Haiti and Nicaragua.