Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) is a unique programme of the International Labour Organization. It benefits workers, employers and their organizations. It benefits consumers in western countries and helps reduce poverty in one of the poorest nations of the world.
BFC does this by assessing and reporting on working conditions in Cambodian garment factories according to national and international labour standards, by helping factories to improve working conditions and productivity, and by working with the Royal Government of Cambodia and international buyers to ensure a rigorous and transparent cycle of improvement.
The project grew out of a trade agreement between the United States and Cambodia. Under the agreement the US promised Cambodia better access to US markets in exchange for improved working conditions in the garment sector. The ILO project was established in 2001 to help the sector make and maintain these improvements.
Better Factories Cambodia is managed by the International Labour Organization but relies on collaboration with the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) and the country’s trade unions.
Better Factories Cambodia was formerly known as the ILO Garment Sector Project. The new name better reflects the present aims of the ILO project.
How it works
Better Factories Cambodia runs a programme of unannounced factory visits to check on working conditions. The monitors’ checklist is based on Cambodian labour law and the standards of the ILO, and endorsed by the government as well as by employers and unions involved in the garment industry. To ensure accuracy, workers and management are interviewed separately and confidentially. Interviews with workers usually take place away from the factory. Monitors also talk with factory shop stewards and union leaders.
Factory managers get reports of the findings that include suggestions for improvement. Suggestions are specific, touching on issues as diverse as child labour, freedom of association, employee contracts, wages, working hours, workplace facilities, noise control and machine safety. After time for discussion and follow-up action, the monitors again visit the factory to check and report on progress.
Better Factories Cambodia publishes synthesis reports on a semi-annual basis. These synthesis reports include an executive summary, easy-to-read graphs highlighting compliance trends, employment figures for the garment industry, and progress made on improving working conditions during the reporting period
Better Factories Cambodia is creating services to help the industry improve working conditions, while at the same time improving quality and productivity. A range of training opportunities and resources are offered to the industry. Options range from simple good practice sheets to an intensive 12-month advisory services program. Workplace co-operation between management and unions is at the heart of the Better Factories Cambodia training programs. The ILO draws on its national and international expertise to design and deliver these improvement programs. The topics cover such things as human resource management, labour law, workplace co-operation and dispute resolution, occupational health and safety, supervisory skills training negotiation skills training and others, . The training is conducted in Khmer, Chinese and English.
Better Factories Cambodia training is designed so that everyone can share their views and ideas and can build on their own experiences. The emphasis is on practical and measurable improvements at the factory level.
Better access to information
Better Factories Cambodia has developed its own information management system (IMS) for assessing and reporting on working conditions. The IMS is a computerized system for collecting, storing and analyzing data. It enables the generation of reports tailored to user needs, and provides security, easy access to information, and greater transparency.
The IMS streamlines and integrates the data collected during factory assessing visits on working conditions. By compiling this information electronically, Better Factories Cambodia can automatically generate reports for individual factories that show their current compliance, progress over time as well as suggestions for improvement. Because of its electronic database, the IMS also provides reports on groups of factories or on the entire industry. It can compare performance across different types of factories, rank major issues, and detail different combinations of information that may be required for analysis.
The IMS also stores data on Better Factories Cambodia training programs, and can track the participation of factories as well as the outcomes of these programs.
The IMS makes it possible for Better Factories Cambodia to produce reports in Khmer, English and Chinese. Because the system is web-based, accessing information is quick and easy.
Why it works
The project works for several reasons. It includes all exporting garment factories and represents common interests of all those involved in the industry. It is transparent, credible to international buyers making sourcing decisions, and meets the needs and interests of workers and the industry.
All export factories in the country are assessed by the project due to the cooperation of the Cambodian Ministry of Commerce. Participation is a condition of export licensing in Cambodia.
The Better Factories Cambodia programme is not intended to guarantee full compliance with labour standards. Rather, it focuses on continuous improvement. While problems still remain, over the last 10 years of the programme genuine progress has been made. Better Factories Cambodia does what it says. It brings about improvement on working conditions and compliance over time.
Better Factories Cambodia represents a convergence of common interests of the industry, international buyers, of the desires of western consumers for sweat-shop free products, and for more and better jobs in one of the poorest countries of this world. As with all ILO projects, national trade unions, employers’ organizations as well as the national government are partners in this work.
The cost of assessing factories is modest – approximately $4 per year for each worker. In addition to factory assessments, BFC convenes stakeholders to discuss important issues, advocates for policy change when appropriate, and regularly engages with researchers, academics and others studying the international garment industry.
At present Better Factories Cambodia is funded by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC), Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), US Department of Labor (USDOL), the World Bank, the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and international buyers through their purchase of assessment reports.
Better Factories Cambodia is guided by a tripartite committee from Cambodian ministries, GMAC and the Cambodian union federations. International buyers are important to Better Factories Cambodia’s work and there is a strong commitment to consulting and building relationships with interested buyers.
Read a stakeholders’ statement
about Better Factories Cambodia in the future.
Learn more about our donors.