Three key input areas for sustainable living wages
The realities of today’s global garment industry normally keep workers’ wages low. And they limit the impact of various measures for wage increases. The imbalance in power, and the way it’s hard to hold any one player accountable in garment production make it harder to raise wages. And part of this is because brands don’t always step up. In many cases, even if the legal minimum wage goes up in a garment production country, brands still insist on paying the same price, or somehow even less, for their products.
Our research and experience have shown that three key input areas are vital when
it comes to making a sustainable
living wage a reality:
Accountability systems to ensure fair costing and traceability
There is no
way around it: wage improvements cost money. Regardless of whether we need to
cover the added costs associated with minimum wage increase; or wage hikes
resulting from collective bargaining; or simply the payment of living wages in
a brand’s supply chain, wage increases generally require additional funding.
In keeping with the UN Principles on Business and Human Rights and the OECD Guidelines, we believe that brands must ensure that the prices they pay can cover living wages. Consequently, much of our work focuses on calculating a brand’s share of production costs. This is also why we call for bottom-up pricing, which uses the total costs of living wages as the basis for price negotiations between committed brands and factories.
Social dialogue (Collective bargaining)
It is not enough simply to add money to the system to raise wages. Workers need to be directly involved, because they have the best idea of their own needs and living costs. They are also best placed to ensure that wage levels keep pace with inflation or other changes in living costs over the years. This is why social dialogue, usually in the form of collective bargaining agreements (CBAs), is especially important.
negotiated by trade unions and employers (and possibly other stakeholders) offer
the most sustainable approach of setting living wage floors and keeping them up
to date. Workers and their representatives are best placed to monitor and
verify wage payments.
members shouldn’t interfere directly with worker organising, however. For
example, it is a violation of workers’ rights for a brand to require workers to
join a union.
Nevertheless, brands can play an important role in ensuring workers who want to organise or join a union are not discriminated against or penalised. They can also support training for management and workers to communicate effectively together.
If we want to
make living wages a reality across the industry (affecting thousands of brands with
production spread across the world), we need a strong system to hold brands
accountable. Change will only happen if brands based in different countries,
with different ways of doing business, are all paying their share, and if the
money is actually reaching the workers.
Only when all
three of these factors are in place, will sustainable living wages be possible.
Together, they create a simple framework that can guide our work to raise