Photo by Munir Uz Zaman for AFP

A “living wage” may be a human right, yet when it comes to facilitating lives of dignity for the workers who produce their clothes, most of Europe’s leading apparel brands fall grievously short, according to a new report by the Clean Clothes Campaign. None of the 50 brands surveyed by the international labor alliance in Tailored Wages currently pays a wage sufficient enough to maintain a normal standard of living. And although half of them specified in their codes of conduct a desire to meet their workers’ basic needs, only four of them—Inditex, which operates Zara; Switcher; Marks & Spencer; and Tchibo—are taking steps to translate those policies into action.

Tailored Wages, Clean Clothes Campaign, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, living wages

IT’S A LIVING

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3) states that “everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.”

Millions of garment workers and their families live lives of abject poverty.

For most of the world’s garment workers, however, the reality is a life of abject poverty—a “very thin and fragile” lifeline that offers little of the economic advancement that globalization has promised.

“The research showed that while more brands are aware of the living wage and recognize that it is something to be included in their codes of conduct and in [corporate-social-responsibility] brochures, disappointingly for most of the brands surveyed this was as far as they went,” says Anna McMullen, the lead author on the report, in a statement. “With millions of women and men worldwide dependent on the garment industry it is vital that these words are turned into definitive actions sooner rather than later.”

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The survey highlights some innovative schemes certain brands have implemented to increase the wages of their workers. Switzerland-based Switcher, for instance, has established a fund that pays workers an additional 1 percent on top of the price paid to the factory. Others, such as Inditex, are inking agreements with global labor unions like IndustriAll to ensure better working conditions.

Still, these efforts need accelerating, McMullen says. Recent figures from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance show that costs of living in garment-producing countries such as Bangladesh and Cambodia are, on average, three times the minimum wage a garment worker receives. Cambodian workers currently receive $100 per month—just 25 percent of the Asian Floor Wage calculation for Cambodia.

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Clothing firms play a crucial role in determining a living wage because they have the ability to change prices and purchasing practices that allow workers to “live with dignity,” McMullen adds. “The Clean Clothes Campaign believes that no company can truly claim to be working ethically if the people who produce its clothes are paid less than a living wage.”

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THE STATE OF PAY

According to the Clean Clothes Campaign, very few retailers have tried to “truly ingrain throughout their business work towards a living wage.” Per Tailored Wages, most retailers fall in one of four silos.

Companies with “nothing to say,” i.e., declined to respond to the survey: Armani, Asda, Benetton, Celio, Desigual, Diesel Hugo Boss, KiK, Levi Strauss, LPP, Mexx, Replay, S.Oliver, Tod’s, Louis Vuitton

Companies “dragging their feet,” i.e. doing next to nothing to ensure workers are paid enough to live on: Aldi, Carrefour, Charles Vogële, Decathlon, Esprit, Gucci, IC Company, Mango, Orsay, Pimkie, Pentland, Promod, VF Corp., Versace, WE Fashion

Companies that are making “some effort,” i.e. acknowledging the need for a living wage but are doing little to make it a reality: Asics, Bestseller, C&A, Gap, G-Star, Lidl, New Balance, Nike, Next, Takko Fashion, Tesco

Companies making “some effort,” i.e. mentioning work on living wages but unconvincing so far: Adidas, H&M, Primark, Puma, New Look

Companies that are “on the way,” i.e. work started to increase wages but not enough yet: Inditex, Marks & Spencer, Switcher, Tchibo

CONTINUE READING: SWEDE NOTHINGS?


Tailored Wages, Clean Clothes Campaign, Rana Plaza, workers rights, human rights, sweatshops, sweatshop workers, sweatshop labor, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style, living wages

SWEDE NOTHINGS?

The Clean Clothes Campaign’s inclusion of H&M the “unconvincing” category might be surprising to some. After all, the Swedish retailer publicly outlined a road map for fair wages in November. Despite many “good elements” to the program that H&M has developed, including its willingness to pay its suppliers more, the company has not committed to any clear living-wage benchmark or any way to measure success.

H&M has not committed to any clear living-wage benchmark or any way to measure success.

“A key part of H&M’s strategy is promoting negotiations at a factory level, based on wage levels proposed by workers,” McMullen says. “We obviously support the need for wages to be negotiated—this is key. However, factory-level negotiations alone will not achieve ‘fair living wages.’ The wage increases that are possible at factory level, when the starting position is a minimum wage that is only a quarter or a sixth of a living wage, will never reach an actual living wage sufficient to feed and support a family.”

RELATED | H&M Pledges Living Wages for Garment Workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia

H&M, the campaign adds, needs to commit to raise the wage via a benchmark. “Such a commitment may open the space in negotiations for trade unions to make wage demands that represent the real needs of workers,” she adds.

H&M also needs to go further by ensuring the inclusion of local unions. “Signing the Indonesia Protocol would be a good step and a learning experience,” McMullen says, adding that the agreement, already signed by a number of major sportswear-makers, is delivering concrete actions to enable better workplace representation across many suppliers.

Such freedom of association is preferable to H&M’s plan to scale up a project to create worker-participation committees, which McMullen dubs “worrying.”

“Although helpful for improving factory-level communication at times, these committees can act as a parallel means to worker empowerment and, in fact, prohibit the engagement of local unions in factory processes,” she says. “Worker committees should only be used in places where trade union rights are prohibited, otherwise local unions engage in these processes via access agreements and issuance of the ‘right to organize’ guarantee. We hope that H&M will take this important point on board.”

H&M for its part, says that it uses its textile workers’ “own perception” what a fair living wage is as its definition of a living wage.

“Our role and responsibility is to help create a working environment in the factories where a skilled workforce have their wages reviewed annually and negotiated either on factory and/or sectorial and government level, involving freely elected trade union or worker representatives,” it says in a press release.

“Right now we are testing how to best achieve a fair living wage in three model factories, one in Cambodia and two in Bangladesh,” it continues. “Here the wage should be set through fair negotiations where workers’ voices are heard, and also reflect the knowledge and experience of the worker. We will continuously measure the workers’ own perception of receiving a wage covering their basic needs, as well as the actual wage development in monetary terms. The first evaluations will be ready during autumn 2014, and we will scale up the parts of the roadmap shown to be successful.”

+ Tailored Wages

+ Clean Clothes Campaign