The Better Work Programme in Nicaragua

The Better Work Programme of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) was launched in 2007 following the success of the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia Project. In July 2011 Nicaragua became the first Latin American country to join the programme which is supported financially by the US Department of Labour and is implemented locally with the support of the Nicaraguan government.

In essence, the programme focuses on improving labour standards and on promoting the business case for better working conditions. It has three major components:

  • Compliance with ILO Core Labour Standards and national labour laws. Auditors evaluate adherence to these standards.
  • Worker-Management Cooperation. In the case of Nicaragua, tripartite talks take place every six months between the government (Ministry of Labour), the factory owners and unions to negotiate the minimum wage, meal subsidies, health care and working conditions.
  • Social dialogue for all involved. This includes the international buyers as well as the government, employers, unions and workers and, amongst other things, leads to improvements in compliance with social standards which in turn lead to improved competitivity.

The weekly Nicaragua News sheet claimed that “before 2007 the word maquiladora was a synonym for labour abuse. It was difficult for workers to organise unions and those who tried were often fired. Today most factories are unionised and there are more government inspectors inspecting more frequently and issuing more fines.”[1] An earlier Nicaragua News sheet cited Luis Barboza, formerly of the Sandinista Workers Central (CST), who explained that “before [1990 – 2006], there was an alliance between the corporations and the government to destroy unions and investment came at the cost of a decline in labour conditions. Now the situation has changed.”[2]

Companies participating in the scheme include VF Corporation, Levis, Tommy Hilfiger, Wal-Mart, Gap, Gildan, Target Corporation, Sears, and J.C. Penney, amongst others.

[1] Nicaragua News (31 July 2012) ‘Labour conditions improve in Free Trade Zones’, Managua.
[2] Nicaragua News (2 August 2011) ‘Better Work Programme launched’, Managua.