Empowering women through humane workplaces: Garment factories in Southeast Asia
In Asia, garment factories play a dominant role in the employment opportunities for women, yet these factories have some of the harshest working conditions in the region. Across Asian factories, new management improvements are being tested to advance working conditions and comply with international labour conventions while enhancing productivity and competitiveness. These include training of managers, promotion of work-life balance, and incentive pay. In Vietnam and Indonesia, the ministries of labour have engaged with the international community to implement these programs. New trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership are also opening opportunities for workers and policymakers to support such interventions.
There is growing understanding that when factories treat workers fairly—especially women—they show greater psychological empowerment to advocate change, while workers who experience verbal and physical abuse by supervisors feel disempowered, their mindset suffers, and they become less productive at work. This research project aims to improve the understanding of the link between working conditions, well-being, and productivity.
The project will compare female factory workers that participate in a program with better working conditions with those who do not. It will examine whether compliance with better working conditions affects mindsets, and how in turn this impacts work performance and workers’ well-being. It will also assess the development impact of improvement in job quality among young female workers, and what interventions can best address the current conditions of working women in the garment industry.
The project will be implemented by a multi-disciplinary team of researchers from the industrial psychology, management science, and economic sectors. They will engage directly with stakeholders in ministries of labour and garment factory associations. The University of Indonesia will involve the working group on decent work within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which tackles labour policies at the regional level. The project will promote collaboration and capacity building of local research teams in Indonesia and Vietnam and will disseminate findings widely to the scholarly, policy, industry, and private sector communities through working papers and briefs as well as targeted public events.