More than 700,000 workers in Vietnam's apparel industry could enjoy improved working conditions under a new programme announced by IFC and the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

The Better Work Vietnam programme, the largest country initiative of its kind launched by World Bank Group member IFC and the ILO, also aims to boost the international competitiveness of the sector.

A voluntary, industry-based programme, it will seek to boost relationships between international buyers, local enterprises, government and worker organisations.

The project also aims to help the Vietnamese government to improve labour standards and economic development, creating a more cost-effective process for labour standards compliance.

Gap Inc is one of several international buyers to back the scheme.

"The Better Work platform is a model that demonstrates how improvements are possible when the right stakeholders are at the table," said Dan Henkle, Gap's senior vice president for social responsibility.

"IFC's experience shows that there is a clear and strong business case for companies to effectively manage their social risks," said Rachel Kyte, IFC's vice president for business advisory services.

"Better Work is an opportunity to demonstrate that responsible labour practices have the potential to open export markets."