Good work conditions "improve pay and factory output"

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A garment-making factory at the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo: World Bank/Chhor Sokunthea

Improving working conditions in traditionally poorly paid garment factories does not come at the expense of productivity or profitability, the UN said Monday.

According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), hundreds of factories across seven developing countries have seen "dramatically improved" changes thanks to its Better Work programme.

These include higher wages and productivity, along with less harassment and coercion.

Daniel Johnson has more.

Set up in 2009 by the ILO and UN-partner the World Bank, the Better Work scheme oversees 1300 factories employing more than 1.6 million people in seven countries, including Bangladesh, Indonesia and Haiti.

Now, in an independent review, researchers have found that its focus on improving conditions for workers is good for business too – and that's a big deal in an industry that's long been associated with tough working hours, very low pay and abuse.

Here's economist Drusilla Brown from Tufts University in the US:

"If you look at weekly pay measured in US dollars we see about a seven dollar increase per week after about three years of exposure, does Better Work reduce hours? The answer to that question is yes, we see about a 3.5 hour reduction after about three years in the programme."

In Vietnam, average profitability increased by a quarter in factories, four years after they signed up to the scheme.

And in Jordan, the scheme has also been associated with reducing abuse in the workplace, with reports of sexual harassment down by 18 per cent.

Despite the progress, there's evidence that these hard-won gains in the workplace can be forgotten quickly in the absence of proper checks.

And Better Work programme director Dan Rees insists that one of the biggest problems that needs tackling is the way big overseas garment buyers place their orders, often at the expense of decent factory working hours.

Daniel Johnson, United Nations, Geneva

Duration: 1’22″



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