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A Better Future for Garment Factories: Meet Tara Rangarajan from ILO

ValuesWilliam Lee & Jyotsna Mahendra, Global Sustainability at Gap Inc.Comment
Tara Rangarajan of the ILO/IFC’s Better Work program.

Tara Rangarajan of the ILO/IFC’s Better Work program.

We partner with some of the world’s most respected and accomplished organizations to help improve conditions for the women and men who make our clothes around the world. We feel a deep commitment to ensure that the people who make our clothes work in safe, fair conditions and are treated with dignity and respect. By partnering with groups like the ILO/IFC’s Better Work program, we have the ability to drive deeper progress for our industry and achieve an even greater impact for the people touched by our business.

We believe in a future where garment workers and factory management collaborate constructively with one another to address challenges through clear and respectful channels of communication.

We’ve been working with the Better Work Team to develop and scale a powerful new training initiative that will be known as the Better Work Academy.

We sat down with Tara Rangarajan from the ILO/IFC’s Better Work program to tell us about this partnership and what we hope to achieve through this exciting new tool.

What is Better Work?

Better Work is a program that has been using innovative, hands-on approaches to improve working conditions and boost competitiveness in the global apparel industry for over 15 years.

We are a partnership between the UN’s International Labour Organization, which brings together governments, employers and workers in 183 countries, and the International Finance Corporation, a member of the World Bank Group, which is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets.

Better Work has staff on the ground in 1,450 factories across four continents, reaching roughly 1,900,000 workers and millions more of their family members. We conduct independent factory assessments to determine compliance with international and national labor standards and, through training and advisory services, support coordinated improvement processes with a focus on enhanced worker-management dialogue and effective, fair HR systems. Through our research and by sharing our learnings from the factory floor, we are also able to shape policies and practices well beyond the countries in which we work.

We have seen through independent impact assessments that our approach really works. For example, the program has decreased gender pay gap by up to 17%, increased women’s access to prenatal care by up to 26% and reduced sexual harassment concerns by as much as 18%. Meanwhile, profitability in the factories Better Work engages has increased by up to 25%, so improving working conditions is really a win-win for everyone involved – from workers to employers to consumers.

How do you partner with member companies like Gap Inc.?

Brands and retailer partners like Gap Inc. are industry leaders in the movement to reimagine the global supply chain, where workers’ rights are realized and businesses gain a competitive advantage to grow.

Gap Inc. has partnered with Better Work since 2001 and has engaged with the program in a variety of ways. First, Gap Inc. is working to register all of the eligible factories in their supply chain in Better Work countries into the program, bringing our proven assessment, advisory and training approach to its suppliers to support improved compliance with international and national labor law.

Gap Inc. also works with us to review their own internal practices, and engages with worker representatives, government, employers’ organizations and other brands on training, special projects and other initiatives to transform the industry.

What can you tell me about the Workplace Cooperation Program?

Since 2015, Better Work and Gap Inc. have been piloting a training program through which we provide training to Gap staff, building the company’s capacity to implement Better Work’s tried-and-tested methodologies across their supply chain.

Worker-management committee representatives engage in a breakout activity during a training conducted by Gap Inc. 

Worker-management committee representatives engage in a breakout activity during a training conducted by Gap Inc. 

This partnership has entailed face-to-face trainings and hands-on coaching around the world. The focus is on encouraging more effective communication in factories, allowing for creative, long-term solutions to the root causes of challenges in the factories that manufacture Gap Inc. apparel.

In many countries, worker-management committees are required while in others we support factories in creating them for the first time. Gap Inc. and Better Work both recognize that it takes more than being in the same room to foster cooperation. To that end, training is provided on topics such as communication and problem-solving, helping to build rapport and increase trust between workers and management.

This training initiative, known as the Workplace Cooperation program, is currently operational in 73 Gap factories in nine countries.

A mid-program assessment of the first batch of factories enrolled showed a 35% increase in the number of respondents reporting that they feel comfortable sharing issues during a committee meeting, as well as a 25%+ increase in committee members describing the quality of worker-management relationships as positive.

What is the Better Work Academy?

The Better Work Academy is our new initiative to scale up the type of impact we’ve had with Gap Inc. and our Workplace Cooperation program to a larger audience, including to other brands and actors committed to driving change and transforming behavior in the apparel industry.

Members of the committee holding their certificate of completion for one of the trainings held near Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Members of the committee holding their certificate of completion for one of the trainings held near Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Through in-person training, ‘Train the Trainer’ schemes, one-on-one coaching and specialist e-learning, participants will polish up their expertise in international labor standards and develop practical approaches to helping workers and managers work collaboratively to identify and tackle workplace challenges in apparel factories.

Over the two-year course, participants will also learn to build more effective partnerships with factories, and foster opportunities for workers – especially women – to have a voice in the factory, including moving to supervisory roles.

It’s an exciting new departure for us, and we’re looking forward to working closely with Gap Inc. and other partners as we roll this out!


To learn about the steps we've taken to ensure a better workplace, read the latest from Gap Inc.'s Senior Director of Supplier Sustainability, William Lee.