Benefit for Business and Workers Project by Impactt and RBC recognized at Guardian Sustainable Business Awards 2013

For many working in global supply chains the conditions remain poor – low wages and long working hours are commonplace. Not surprisingly, this often goes hand-in-hand with poor efficiency and low productivity.

But one UK project looking at the international clothing industry has shown that, given the right investment and training, this negative cycle can be reversed with positive gains not for only workers, but also business.

The Benefits for Business and Workers project, was led by Impactt, a consultancy specialising in ethical trade. The £880,000 project was supported by eight leading retailers, including Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Mothercare, and received matched funding from the Department for International Development.

The project involved Impactt working with productivity experts Rajesh Bheda Consulting and 66 garment factories in Bangladesh and India employing more than 100,000 workers. They carried out a range of innovative training to improve efficiency, quality and working conditions.

The results they have received so far are impressive. Turnover of workers fell by 65% and absenteeism by almost a third, demonstrating better job satisfaction. At the same time, factory efficiency increased by 30%. On average, workers' monthly income increased by 12.5% – in total £4.8m over a year.

Impactt believes that the results speak for themselves in illustrating how a happier workforce can deliver significant productivity improvements. But it's not just the figures that stand out from the project, there is also a marked shift in how people feel.

In the words of one factory worker: "I feel lots of change in this factory in the last six months – there is less absenteeism, because of the attendance bonus. I am saving the extra money for my daughter's future … "

A supervisor talked about how his job had changed dramatically since the project: "Earlier, my work was counting and shouting. After supervisor training I realise my job is care and share."

The changes have taken place, in part, because of a shift from enforcement of absolute standards to a focus on improvements. This was achieved with strong local implementation teams, which included former factory managers as well as HR, quality and productivity experts. The teams also ensured that former workers were involved.

In addition, the training was also highly localised to ensure relevance and that productivity gains were reinvested in higher pay and better jobs. Another key element in the success of the project was a value chain coalition to ensure buy-in and demonstrate return on investment.

The Benefits for Business and Workers project improves global supply chains by delivering on-the-ground improvements that work both ethically and commercially.

Its collaborative nature enables partners to take a value-chain approach, involving workers, managers, suppliers and retailers. This offers the opportunity to create a virtuous circle in which trade supports the transfer of gains down the value chains into workers' pockets.

As one factory operator said: "We have a production bonus system in the line and we achieve this bonus because we learn how to do good quality work in an efficient way. Now we work as a team."

Benefit for Business and Workers Project by Impactt and RBC recognized at Guardian Sustainable Business Awards 2013

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