A joint project of the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the Better Work program is designed to improve working conditions in global supply chains while boosting both countries' economic competitiveness and business for national industries. The ILO and IFC selected BSR to help increase the involvement of international buyers in order to create systemic improvements of the working conditions in their supply chains.
BSR's work on this project grew out of our support for the ILO/IFC's Better Factories Cambodia project. In 2008, following the global expansion of the model, BSR worked with the ILO/IFC to expand the participation of international buyers in Better Work, to strengthen both that program and the companies' efforts to ensure responsible supply chains.
At the same time, BSR began running country-specific buyers' forums in countries to which Better Work was expanding, including Vietnam and Jordan. These events allow buyers to work directly with key local stakeholders—including government, unions, and enterprises—on shared solutions to improve working conditions. These country-level programs—which directly benefit nearly 800,000 workers—combine independent assessments of labor standards at the factory level with training and capacity building.
As a result of BSR's efforts, the number of international buyers in the project doubled, and we contributed to a significant reduction of duplicative factory monitoring in Cambodia. Our approach also led to verified improvements in working conditions across the apparel industry, the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, and sustained increases in exports to the United States and the European Union.
In 2005, at the end of the Multi-Fibre Arrangement, the international system of national quotas for apparel production, many people were concerned that the industry in Cambodia would be decimated. Instead, the Better Work program helped increase jobs in Cambodia's garment export market by nearly 30 percent. In the first year after the lifting of quotas, international buyers involved in the program increased exports at twice the rate of the industry average.
While it's too early to quantify our impact in other Better Work countries, BSR has worked with many buyers sourcing in those regions to create a strong commitment to reducing the duplication of monitoring, continuously improving working conditions, and actively engaging in partnerships with local stakeholders.
The tripartite model of Better Work provides a basis for impact and credibility. Most importantly, Better Work's tools and country-specific programs enable international buyers to collaborate with government, employer, and workers' organizations on shared models that promote sustainable impact at the national level.