Location: Cambodia (and other countries)
Summary: For years, we’ve played a role in a unique international collaboration to improve working conditions in garment factories. Today, the Better Work program is expanding throughout the world, and by the end of 2011 will be operational in seven countries.
In the late ‘90s, Gap Inc. embraced the opportunity to become part of a groundbreaking effort to improve labor standards compliance and transparency.
The effort now encompasses the Better Work program, a partnership between the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) that seeks to help governments, workers and companies achieve compliance with the ILO’s core labor standards and national labor law. By promoting innovative and credible systems, Better Work has sustainable impact and directly benefits the lives of millions of workers.
This effort began in Cambodia, which at the time was forging a unique partnership with the ILO as a result of a landmark trade agreement with the U.S. We knew that to make sustainable improvements, we needed to join with others to pool resources, knowledge and skills. The ILO – with its unique expertise and credibility on labor rights — was working with government, industry, and labor groups to oversee a new approach to factory monitoring.
Given Gap Inc.’s size and presence in Cambodia, we felt we had a primary role to play as well. We helped with the program’s design and practical complexities. And we took a long-term view, seeing this collaboration as a potential model for change throughout the world. Today, we are proud of the role we’ve played in helping Better Work expand to seven countries around the world, and remain committed to seeing its success continue in the years ahead.
Better Work shows what it takes to create scalable impact. For instance, we saw an opportunity, in addition to monitoring, in training and capacity building – to help factories develop their own systems to improve working conditions. Together with local NGOs, we developed a training program in Cambodia that later evolved into a bigger collaboration between Gap Inc. and the IFC. Capacity building was eventually incorporated into the Better Work model, and the IFC joined forces with the ILO to help expand Better Work beyond Cambodia. Today, Better Work has financial backing from more than a dozen governments.
We envisioned this expansion early on and began to lay the groundwork. In 2006, we invited representatives from the program, along with Cambodia’s Minister of Commerce, to a conference we helped organize in Central America on fair labor standards and global competitiveness.
“Gap Inc. has played a strong role in supporting Better Work to establish programs in Africa, Asia and Latin America,” says Dan Rees, Director of Better Work. “This is an important contribution to the Better Work approach of building effective collaboration between governments, employers, workers, and buyers in programs that improve working conditions.”
In those countries where the Better Work programs are operational, we have stopped our own monitoring and instead subscribe to Better Work assessment reports; this in turn frees up our internal resources to focus on capacity building and remediating problems. Better Work has developed its own approach to monitoring factories, and while this approach is not always 100% reflective of our own Code of Vendor Conduct’s methodology, it is equally comprehensive in that it takes a long-term approach looking at continuous improvements and capacity building efforts. By eliminating the need for individual brands to conduct separate auditing, Better Work increases efficiencies and establishes clearer standards.
When social compliance issues do arise in Better Work member factories manufacturing apparel for Gap Inc., we will take steps required to remediate those issues, including involving our Social Responsibility Specialists and members of our broader Monitoring and Vendor Development team as needed. For more information on the process and scope of the Better Work program, please click here and here.
Below are but a few of the recent updates relevant to Better Work’s expansion (the number of factories participating in the program generally refers to those suppliers that are garment manufacturing facilities):
- Cambodia – Better Factories Cambodia now counts 100 percent of our suppliers there as participants in the program.
- Haiti – Better Work has been operational in Haiti since 2009, though the earthquake of January 2010 forced several delays in the program being implemented according to its original schedule. Nonetheless, 100 percent of our supplier factories are now participating in the program in Haiti.
- Indonesia – Better Work officially launched in Indonesia in April 2011. The first phase of the program is concentrating on factories in and around Jakarta, with a pilot project consisting of a few participating brands and retailers, each enrolling a select group of their suppliers. Gap Inc. is included in the pilot program.
- Jordan – Launched in early 2008, the Better Work program started in earnest in July of that year. We have four supplier factories in Jordan, all of which are participating in the program.
- Lesotho – Officially launched in December 2010, our four suppliers based out of Lesotho are participating in the Better Work program.
- Nicaragua – Although the program was announced in 2010, the official launch is expected to be summer 2011, with the rollout of assessments beginning in the second half of 2011. We are planning on having all of our Nicaragua suppliers participate.
- Vietnam – Better Work Vietnam covers factories in and around Ho Chi Minh City. In the first year of the program, which became operational in June 2009, approximately 45 percent of our supply base participated. We are aiming to have nearly 100 percent of our factories registered and participating in the program by the end of 2011.