Oxfam Australia recently produced a striking report that makes an important contribution to the growing global debate on living wages in the garment industry.
The study, entitled What she makes: Power and Poverty in the Fashion Industry, highlights the difficult living conditions of the (80 per cent female) workers who are paid very low wages to produce clothing in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Vietnam or China for Australian and international retailers.
Citing research by Deloitte Access Economics, the report points out that in the average supply chain of Australian fashion retailers, only 4%, or €0.26 (40 AU¢) on a €6.50 T-shirt, reaches the workers. In Bangladesh, where wages are particularly low and the ratio drops to 2%, this means only € 0.13 per T-shirt.
10 cents extra
‘There is perhaps no starker example of the growing global inequality crisis than the garment industry, where millions remain trapped in poverty on one hand, while a few amass great wealth on the other,’ the study states. Contrasting the salaries of fashion CEOs in Australia with the wages of the workers who produce the garments they sell, it suggests it would take a Bangladeshi worker 4,000 years to earn what the average chief executive makes in a year.
Oxfam Australia argues that paying workers a living wage to lift them out of poverty and allow them to live a decent life IS possible. Even if big companies passed the entire cost of paying living wages to all workers on to consumers, its study suggests, this would increase the price of a piece of clothing sold in Australia by just 1%. That is just 10 cents [€0.06] extra for a $10 [€6] T-shirt,’ according to Deloitte estimates.
Power of brands
The report concludes by calling on brands to redress this unjust situation. ‘Brands have the power – and the responsibility – to make this change.’
Several pioneering Fair Wear Foundation brands have already taken up this challenge by joining the Living Wage Incubator, launched by FWF in January 2017.
Working close in cooperation with their suppliers, these member companies are testing ways to bring workers’ wages to living wage levels, without undermining growth in a highly competitive sector. By sharing their experiences as they develop their pilot projects, these brands hope to inspire other companies to pay fairer wages to the workers who produce their garments.