Statement: Our commitment to paying garment workers a living wage

Today, the Clean Clothes Campaign launches a website focused on transparency and living wages in the garment industry. The site scores 108 European and American brands, including some Fair Wear brands, on how well the CCC believes they’re addressing these topics.

Living wages are a human right

Everyone should receive a wage that covers his or her basic needs. A living wage gives people the financial freedom to take care of themselves, to look after their children and to invest in their future. But millions of workers in the garment industry can’t meet their basic needs due to insufficient wages. COVID-19 has made this more visible than ever. When factories closed their doors, workers—who often live hand to mouth—were left on the brink of poverty. The current industry isn’t designed to absorb economic shocks, and workers end up suffering the most. We are working to change that for the better.

How Fair Wear works towards living wages

We so strongly believe in living wages that we’ve built the idea in to our Code of Labour Practices, which all our members sign. All Fair Wear brands are committed to paying a living wage to the people who make our clothes. We’re also helping make higher wages a reality by developing tools and guidance through innovation and lessons learned by some of our leading members and by stressing the importance of freedom of association and collective bargaining. With our ‘living wage incubator’, we have supported brands in finding ways to work towards paying a living wage. And by adding living wage criteria into our Brand Performance Checks, we accelerate progress and demand step-by-step improvements. We’re sharing these real-world examples with other brands and likeminded organisations.

Fair Wear brands’ efforts towards higher wages

Our brands are frontrunners in improving labour conditions (for example, see the efforts of Fair Wear Leader brand ARMEDANGELS), but there’s still a long way to go, especially when it comes to wages. The commitment to pay a living wage is a commitment to system innovation. We critically verify the efforts of our member brands, and while many have taken steps on the road to implementing a living wage, we recognise that most of our member brands are not at the level where they contribute to a living wage for all their suppliers, which is our ultimate goal. This is something we’re determined to change.

Valuing the steps that are taken

We’re proud of the steps that our brands have taken towards pricing and  raising wages. The CCC has scored brands on the actual salaries that are being paid in the factories with which they work. It’s important to measure this actual impact. Workers should receive a living wage, and it is sad to see that this is not the case. Measuring wages doesn’t always give you a picture about the brands measures and steps taken already. It is key to also measure the steps that are taken in between. Let’s not forget that many steps must come before brands are able to tackle wage improvements with their suppliers: making sure brands and suppliers are on the same page, involving workers and their representatives, being unusually transparent about where the money goes, determining the price that needs to be paid, reaching out  to other customers of the same supplier. We realise this is a pressing topic, but we need to be realistic: these steps take time and are vital. We measure these steps in the Brand Performance Check, holding our member brands accountable. This is a fair way to keep moving forward. Also, while some brands are paying their fair share, this may not result in living wages for all workers, because other brands must also chip in.

A bumpy road

The road to a fair garment industry is a bumpy one, and at this stage, 100% fair clothing isn’t a reality. The garment industry is labour intensive. Since the start of industrialisation, it has been located in low-cost areas, and it continues to relocate to countries where wages are lower. The industry is notoriously competitive about prices and shortening lead times to market. Consumers have come to expect cheap and ever-changing clothing selections. This increases the strain on all the players that make up the garment supply chain. It’s important that all brands make living wages a priority. The entire industry needs to change.

Despite the obstacles, our unwavering belief that it’s possible for every garment worker to receive a living wage drives our work and helps us find ways around the obstacles. We need your help to get there. Support brands that are working hard to raise wages and hold them to that commitment. Together, we can make fair fashion a reality.

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