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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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