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10 Biggest Excuses For Not Paying a Living Wage (And Why They Suck)

by , 09/28/12   filed under: Features, Worker Rights

Clean Clothes Campaign, sweatshops, sweatshop labor, sweatshop workers, forced labor, human rights, workers rights, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

1. CALCULATING FAIR AND BALANCED WAGE IS IMPOSSIBLE

From the workers’ perspective, there is little sense in this argument. The problem of low wages is obvious to workers and many companies alike, yet because companies can’t agree on a figure, many refuse to try raising wages.

The problem of low wages is obvious, yet because companies can’t agree on a figure, many refuse to raise wages.

Although this dilemma has existed for years, little attempt has been made by companies to reach a consensus, and when multi-stakeholder initiatives have tried, negotiations have failed. It isn’t the case that this consensus is impossible, its just that companies don’t want to find it.

In 2009, the Asia Floor Wage Alliance—an alliance of 80-plus garment workers’ unions, worker representatives, and non-governmental organizations from six Asian garment-producing countries—did all the hard work and calculated a figure for a living wage for garment workers: $283, more than four times the average monthly salary in Cambodia.

The number was based on what was needed to buy a food basket for a worker and her dependent family, as well as any additional costs she would have to pay to survive. The buying power of this figure was suggested to companies as a solution to the dilemma. Although many companies agreed that it was an interesting idea, none of them have, to date, officially used this figure as a living-wage benchmark.

Clean Clothes Campaign, sweatshops, sweatshop labor, sweatshop workers, forced labor, human rights, workers rights, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

2. CONSUMERS DON’T WANT TO PAY MORE FOR THEIR SHIRTS

It’s true that consumers have become used to paying only a very small amount for their apparel. It’s worth noting, however, that a garment worker’s wage is only 1 to 3 percent of the total cost of most clothing.

A garment worker’s wage is only 1 to 3 percent of the total cost of most clothing.

If a consumer is paying €8 ($10) for a shirt, the worker who made it is receiving only 24 cents at most. To double this wage would only be another 24 cents. The consumer would barely notice this type of increase, and if a consumer won’t notice it, a company probably won’t notice it that much either. These types of costs could be absorbed into company profit margins who make millions of euros per annum in profits.

Clean Clothes Campaign, sweatshops, sweatshop labor, sweatshop workers, forced labor, human rights, workers rights, eco-fashion, sustainable fashion, green fashion, ethical fashion, sustainable style

3. GOVERNMENTS, NOT COMPANIES, NEED TO SET MINIMUM WAGES

While it’s true that minimum wages set by governments (often negotiated with business organizations and trade unions) should ideally be reasonable, there’s a clear reason why they aren’t. Governments have to think about their international competitiveness, and they’re all too aware that multinational fashion buyers will move elsewhere if labor costs become too high.

Governments are all too aware that multinational fashion buyers will move elsewhere if labor costs become too high.

The multinational fashion buyers hold the power in the situation, not the country governments. It’s down to the multinational companies who dominate garment-supply chains to show that they are willing to absorb the small increases in production costs that might occur, in order to give governments the confidence to raise minimum wages in the first place.

Fashion brands will need to work both across their entire supply base in different countries, and with other brands buying from each country, to move the wage issue forward.

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4 Responses to “10 Biggest Excuses For Not Paying a Living Wage (And Why They Suck)”

  1. fasionpunk says:

    What if we gave the consumer the choice of paying 1 to 3 percent more of the total cost of most clothing?

  2. Elisabel says:

    OK, i tell my employer all this and he say: “Go work somewhere else”. I know my rights, but behind me there are lots of othere workers ready to take my place. There’s no cost to the companies.
    The bottom is this: goverment want this to happen!! They have policy, they have rules, but companies doesn’t implement them and gov. doesn’t check if they’re implementing them.
    We are alone!
    And i’m from other country.. this happens all over the glove.

  3. Brulee says:

    It used to be that the cheaper options came from places with cheap labour but now most things seem to come from China or places with child/cheap labour? Not only is this cruel but also many things only last for a few washes/wear before defects are found, the profits must be huge, even ‘throwaway’ goods like oral B and other toothbrushes,a few pounds each and made in China how much money made there?

    Some of the Victorians tried to change slave labour and child labour but now moved away it seems to flourish

  4. theemilytree@gmail.com (@theemilytree) says:

    I try to source my clothing from ethical brands. By finding brands whose identity is based on fair trade, and who are fair trade certified, you can ensure that your clothing isn’t marred by the ugliness of human exploitation. I currently work for INDIGENOUS – http//:www.indigenous.com – and I am able to buy all organic and fair trade clothing from them and other brands that have made it their mission to put people and planet before profit.

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