Tailored Wages – New Report Investigates Clothing Brands’ Work on Living Wages

tailored wagesSurvey of 50 leading clothing brands show they must do much more to ensure garment workers receive a wage they can live on.

This week, Clean Clothes Campaign launched ‘Tailored Wages’, an in-depth study of what the leading 50 clothing brands across Europe are doing to ensure that the workers who produce the clothes they sell are paid a living wage. Download the full report here.

Based on a multi-brand survey, “Tailored Wages” found that whilst half of those surveyed included wording in their codes of conduct saying that wages should be enough to meet workers’ basic needs; only four brands – Inditex, Marks & Spencers, Switcher and Tchibo – were able to show any clear steps towards implementing this – and even they have a long way to go before a living wage becomes a reality for the garment workers that produce for them.

More action and less talk

“Although a living wage is a human right, shockingly none of Europe’s leading 50 companies is yet paying a living wage,” said Anna McMullen, the lead author on the report. “The research showed that while more brands are aware of the living wage and recognise that it is something to be included in their codes of conduct and in CSR brochures, for most of the brands surveyed this was as far as they went. 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.”

Images from Clean Clothes Tailored Wages Report

Images from Clean Clothes Tailored Wages Report

The survey did find some interesting work being carried out by some brands to increase the amount paid to workers. Swiss company Switcher has set up a fund to pay an additional 1% on top of the price paid to the factory, which will go directly to the workers. Whilst other companies such as Spanish retail giant Inditex is looking at ensuring better conditions by forming agreements with global union IndustriALL. However as Ms. McMullen adds “whilst this is all innovative work it remains in the pilot stage and workers can wait no longer.”

Struggle for living wages reaching critical point

In key garment producing countries such as Cambodia the struggle for a living wage continues, as latest figures from the Asia Floor Wage Alliance show that living wage levels are, on average, three times the minimum wage a garment worker receives.

Cambodian workers, currently receive just USD 100 a month, just 25% of the Asia Floor Wage calculation for Cambodia. In recent months garment workers have been met with increasing violence and unrest as they demand a raise in the minimum wage to USD 160 – still just a fraction of a wage they could live on.

“My expenses are increasing every day,” says Lili, a factory worker from Cambodia. “Even if we [the workers] eat all together in a small room and I collect the money from all others, we still can only spend a very small amount each because everybody always thinks ‘how are we going to be able to send money home to our families?’”

The Clean Clothes Campaign carried out the research to monitor how far policies are being turned into practice by major clothing brands. The role of companies in ensuring a living wage is paid is vital as they have the ability to change prices and purchasing practices that would ensure wages allowed garment workers to live with dignity.

Tailored Wages is part of a global campaign run by Clean Clothes Campaign and partners the Asia Floor Wage Alliance calling on all brands and governments to take action in order to ensure a living wage is paid.

cost of a tshirt

Global Week of Action in Support of Protesting Cambodian Garment Workers

cambodiaToday, Friday 10th January 2014 marks the beginning of a Global Week of Action against the government crackdown on Cambodian protesters. The week will be marked with protests at the Cambodian Embassies and other locations around the world, including the one in London today.

Violence against garment workers began after Cambodian unions called a national strike on December 24, 2013. Workers were demanding an increase in the minimum wage to USD 160 per month. As protests continued, the police and military responded with violence on January 2 and 3, killing at least 4 people and injuring almost 40.

Labour rights groups and trade unions across the world are expressing outrage at the brutal violence and are calling on global clothing brands to use their influence to achieve an end to repression against workers involved in wage protests and the resumption of good-faith wage negotiations.

The groups, including Clean Clothes Campaign, International Labor Rights Forum, Worker Rights Consortium, Maquila Solidarity Network, United Students Against Sweatshops, International Union League for Brand Responsibility, Workers United, SEIU, Framtiden i våre hender, and CNV Internationaal, The Netherlands, are calling on global clothing brands to take immediate action and contact the Cambodian government demanding an end to the violence and immediate release of those who have been detailed for participation in the protests. They are also demanding that the government adhere to the guidelines set out by the International Labour Organisation.

“Whilst our primary concern is the safety and well-being of those workers who have been detained, we are also calling on brands to look at the long-term implications of their purchasing practices.” said Jeroen Merk of the Clean Clothes Campaign. “Until brands recognise that these practices contribute to the poverty wages received by workers in Cambodia, and in turn the demonstrations we are witnessing, then no brand sourcing from Cambodia can claim to be acting fairly or decently.”

As poverty wages are at the root of the demonstrations, the groups involved are also asking global clothing brands to recognise the role they play and take immediate action including:

Publicly stating that any future apparel and footwear orders in Cambodia depend on:

  • an immediate end to the violence against workers; 
  • the release of all those detained in the wage protests and the dropping of all charges;
  • government re-establishing the right to strike and assemble; 

Paying fair prices to factories, sufficient to enable employers to pay a decent wage;
Supporting the workers’ call for a substantial increase in the minimum wage (to USD 160); and
Committing to maintaining buying volumes from Cambodia if wages were to rise.

Cambodia’s garment industry employs over 500,000 people, is responsible for around 95% of Cambodia’s export industry and is worth €3.38 billion a year. The minimum wage falls a long way short of a living wage, and the poverty wages workers receive contribute to shocking levels of malnutrition amongst the mainly young female workforce.

“These latest horrific developments demonstrate why authorities can no longer afford to ignore the social problems and poor living conditions facing workers in Cambodia today,” said Tola Meoun, Head of Labor Programmes for the Cambodian NGO Community Legal Education Centre.

Regardless of whether you are able to attend any of the demonstrations or events, show your solidarity and make a commitment to finding out where and how the clothes you are buying are made. Consumers cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the flagrant abuses of international labour laws that are committed in the fashion industry. Global brands will continue to exploit people and the land in the quest for cheaper prices until we vote with our collective purchasing power.

Take a look in your own wardrobes this week and you’re bound to find items labelled ‘Made in Cambodia’. There are factories in Cambodia that work ethically – of course – but with a minimum wage of less than USD 160 per month, it’s clear the vast majority of clothes made in the country are done so in an exploitative way.

What’s bought in the past is done and it’s time to look forward and make a commitment to buying ethically sourced clothing. It’s not difficult. Your favourite high street brand should have a sustainability policy on their web site so you can have a read through and decide for yourself whether they are doing enough to ensure the safety, wellbeing and remuneration of the workers who are making their garments.

Regular updates on the developing situation in Cambodia can be found from the following:
LICADHO – Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights
CLEC – Community Legal Education Center

Information on the January 10 Day of Action events can be found here.