Since 2009, Better Work Vietnam has joined with workers, employers and government to improve working conditions and boost competitiveness of the garment industry.
The programme has nearly 50 staff members working on assessment, advisory and training services. BWV also works closely with the Ministry of Labour (MOLISA) and it has served as a model for the social dialogue adopted in the 2013 national labour code.
The garment sector in Vietnam has enjoyed remarkable growth in the last two decades to become one of the country’s largest industries, generating exports of more than USD 28 billion in 2015.
The industry now provides jobs for some 2.5 million people, who in turn support millions of other family members through the wages they earn in the factories.
More than 80 percent of garment workers are women, most of whom are young and most of whom are internal migrants from rural areas. As a source of more secure and better paid jobs for many, the garment sector has grown to become an important driver of poverty reduction and socio-economic development in Vietnam.
There are around 6,000 textile and garment factories in the country, around 70 percent of which are producing readymade garments. Most garment firms produce at the cut-make-trim end of the value chain. Around 800 factories are producing for direct export, mostly to brands and retailers in North America, Europe and Japan.
Better Work started operations in Vietnam in 2009, and now provides supports more than 400 export-oriented factories employing over half a million workers – some 21 percent of the industry’s workforce, mainly in the Ho Chi Minh area. To date, the programme has conducted thousands of assessments and advisory visits to help factories identify and improve their working conditions and labour standards.
Better Work Vietnam also works with national stakeholders in the Government, Trade Union and Employer’s Organization to build their capacity to support compliance and improvement in the industry and develop practical, evidence based policies for more effective labour market governance.
Recent reforms to the law under the 2012 Labour Code were based in part on the practical experience of the Better Work programme.
In August 2016, Better Work Vietnam signed a much anticipated protocol with the Ministry of Labour (MOLISA) on Zero Tolerance issues, namely child Labour, forced labour and discrimination. The protocol stipulates that cases of forced labour found in factories will be immediately referred to MOLISA for enforcement and remediation.
Since 2009, BWV has conducted more than 4,200 advisory visits to help factories improve their labour standards. Researchers from Tufts University studied the impact of Better Work Vietnam in the past five years, and found that significant progress has been made during this period, with potential for further improvements.
Here are some of their findings:
Workers experience greater contract stability along with increased pay. Better Work is preventing the use of insecure or unprotected contracts that leave the worker in a precarious employment situation. The longer a factory participates in the programme, the less frequent their abuse of probationary contracts. Workers’ reported take-home pay increases in constant terms. Better Work is driving this effect through ensuring compliance with paying workers as promised in their contracts.
Better working conditions, and participation in Better Work, are linked to higher profitability. Factories with better working conditions are up to 8% more profitable than their counterparts. And, the average firm enrolled in Better Work Vietnam increases its revenue to cost ratio by 25% after four years of participation.
The quality of jobs in the garment sector influences the educational opportunities of workers’ children. School enrolment rates in Vietnam are high, including among the children of garment sector workers. Yet researchers establish evidence showing increased ability to pay for schooling among workers in factories committed to improving conditions of work.