The global garment industry has doubled over the past 15 years and is powered by an estimated 80-million-strong workforce. The deprivation that vast majority of these workers and their families experience on daily basis stands in stark contrast with the huge profits reported by global fashion brands.
One of the many dirty secrets that brands are not keen on disclosing is that workers’ wage represents only a fraction of what consumers pay for the clothes. This holds whether fast fashion or luxury brands are concerned, just as all brands’ business practices have a direct effect on workers’ wages.
For example, the official shirt and shorts worn by the England football team at the 2018 World Cup and embellished with a well-known sportswear brand logo were the most expensive England kit ever. They were sold to fans for as much as EUR 180 – while the workers in Bangladesh who made them were earning less than EUR 2 per day.
In other words, these workers, like so many millions of others, are being deprived of the right to a living wage. This right has been recognized, among others, by the Council of Europe and by the UN in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it is not respected even where legally set minimum wages are in place.
What we do
We want to break the ‘business as usual-system’ that is based on workers’ exploitation. All garment workers should be paid a wage they can live on, because having a job should mean being able to support yourself and your family.
It is time for the brands and everyone else making money from the garment industry to pay a fair share to the workers. Wages and benefits paid for a standard working should meet at least legal or industry minimum wage standards and always be sufficient to meet basic needs of workers and their families and to provide discretionary income.
We campaign and lobby for a living wage, that is: earned in a standard working week of no more than 48 hours and allows the garment worker to be able to buy food for herself and her family, pay the rent, pay for healthcare, clothing, transportation and education and have a small amount of savings for when something unexpected happens.
“Our salary is so low that I can’t afford the food that is available in the factory canteen. Even that is out of my reach.”
“We usually cook potatoes with flat bread. Milk products, meat, and fish are far from our reach.”
“Our income is low and we do not space to keep anything in our one room. There is no kitchen. We have no ventilation for fresh air.”
Poverty pay is one of the most pressing issues for workers worldwide, and it is embedded systemically in the global garment and sportswear industries. Companies have relied for decades on this system of poverty pay and exploitation, justifying the outsourcing of cheaply paid assembly work with the need to remain competitive in the global market and to offer cheaper prices to consumers.
Governments have kept minimum wages low under pressure from brands and retailers, and in a bid to create jobs and provide an economic boost to their state economies.
As a result, minimum wage, where it exists as a legally binding standard, is not the same as a living wage. What the minimum wage amounts to differs per country, but in almost all production countries it is far from sufficient to provide for workers’ and their families’ basic needs. For instance, the Stitched up report published by Clean Clothes Campaign in 2017 showed that there was a large gap between the legal minimum wages in Eastern/South-Eastern Europe and Turkey, and what a worker would actually need to provide for themselves and their family.
Being paid poverty wages forces workers to work long hours to earn overtime or bonuses. They cannot risk refusing work due to unsafe working conditions, and they cannot take time off when they are ill. Workers often have to rely on loans just to make ends meet and have no savings. If they find themselves out of work or faced with unexpected expenses, they are thrown in deep poverty.
There’s a host of related problems such as poor housing, poor nourishment, inadequate access to health care, the risk of child labour, occupational accidents and violence against women.
Latest news on living wages
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January 13, 2020
A year after crackdown on wage protests in Bangladesh, hundreds of workers still face retaliatory charges
A year ago, tens of thousands of workers in Bangladesh went on strike against the poverty wages that are pervasive in the country’s export-oriented garment industry. On 13 January 2019, a minimal wage revision was announced that, together with massive repression, led workers to end the demonstrations that had been going on since December. Thousands of workers were unable to go back to work, however, facing punishment for their peaceful protest through politically-motivated dismissals, blacklisting, and criminal charges. Public pressure has in the past weeks and months led to withdrawal of at least eight criminal cases. Nevertheless, one year on, hundreds of workers continue to face the threat of serving time in prison for trumped-up and retaliatory charges.
November 20, 2019
The fashion giant Inditex, which owns the brand Zara, presents itself as a transparent company that attaches the utmost importance to the people who produce its clothes. Exclusive investigation into the conditions in which one of its iconic hoodies was produced reveals what goes on behind the scenes: meagre wages, excessive hours, precarious contracts. The workers pay the price for the huge pressure to drive down prices that Inditex exerts on its suppliers in order to boost its handsome profits.
June 14, 2019
Our latest report reveals that no major clothing brand is able to show that workers making their clothing in Asia, Africa, Central America or Eastern Europe are paid enough to escape the poverty trap. That means that apparel brands and retailers are violating internationally recognized human right norms, and their own Codes of Conduct.
May 20, 2019
Western European brands are profiting from poverty wages in Romania: Europe’s biggest fashion manufacturer.
Garment workers in Romanian earn a mere 14 percent of a living wage. Therefore their family members have to search for precarious jobs in Western Europe.