Low wages persist across global garment industry: study

Staff Correspondent | Published: 00:00, Jun 02,2019


Workers in the garment industry across the globe are still deprived of living wages despite the fact that leading international buyers promised to ensure the wage six years ago, according to a recent global report.
‘Consumers are purchasing products they believe are made by workers earning living wages, when in reality, low-wages continue to be the status quo across the global garment industry,’ said the report prepared by University of Sheffield.
The report investigated the commitments and actions that 20 garment companies had made to paying living wages across their supplier network using the primary data collected through a survey disseminated by the Clean Clothes Campaign to garment companies, as well as data collected by Sheffield.
The CCC had conducted study on Adidas, C&A, Decathlon, G-Star RAW, Gucci, H&M, Inditex, Nike, Primark, Puma, PVH, Tchibo, Under Armour, Fast Retailing/Uniqlo, Amazon, Fruit of the Loom, GAP, Hugo Boss, Levi Strauss and Zalando.
Three of the companies investigated – H&M, C&A and G-Star RAW – were found to have a supplier code of conduct which requires workers to be paid wages which match the Clean Clothes Campaign’s definition of living wages.
Rubana Huq, president of Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporter Association, on Saturday told New Age that Bangladesh was the country which got the lowest price from all brands of the world and the prices of readymade garment products had decreased by 3.6 per cent in the European Union and more than 7 per cent in the US.
‘We hope prices paid to suppliers would also and always be considered to be spoken of every time the reference to living wage is made,’ she said.
Rubana said that the definition of living wage was yet to be universally agreed upon and accepted by all and country perspective should be kept in mind in setting definition of the wage.
The Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013 that claimed the lives of over 1,100 people, mostly garment workers, drew attention to poor wages and conditions, as well as the shrinking space for freedom of association for workers.
Following the incident, demands for increasing wages and paying living wages on an industry-wide basis had been amplified and gained traction and several garment corporations had made commitments to ensuring the wages paid to workers in their global supply chains are enough to live on.
Over the last decade, leading global corporations in the garment industry have begun to make commitments to deliver living wages to the workers that make their clothes but the commitments have mostly not yet translated into meaningful action or results, the research found.
It identified that global fashion brands outsourced their living wage commitments to multiple external initiatives, which had unenforceable standards.
The report also found widespread inconsistency and confusion among garment companies over the definition of living wage and lack living wage benchmarks and a roadmap for achieving their commitments.
The research identified lack of transparency among corporations about the wages that were actually paid to workers throughout their supplier networks and weak enforcement of freedom of association rights as obstacles to implementing living wages.
‘Garment companies were asked whether they publish supplier lists as well as wage data for workers in supplier factories. Fifteen companies published clear supplier lists, including factory addresses, which was encouraging, but none was able to provide corresponding data on the wages being paid within these supplier factories,’ the report read.
The report found that garment companies were heavily dependent on social auditing to ‘monitor’ and ‘enforce’ living wage commitments, but this tool was widely known to be ineffective and open to abuse.
‘While the robustness of social auditing methodology varied across companies, the data overall suggests that companies are doing little to overcome the traditional limitations of social auditing with respect to their deployment of the tool to monitor and enforce living wages,’ it said.
The report made a set of recommendations for how to achieve more meaningful progress towards living wages in global supply chains.
It said that the garment industry should collectively address the significant confusion about what constitutes a living wage and the sizable gap that exists between the rhetoric and reality of corporate commitments to ensuring that workers in their supply chains are paid living wages.
The report recommended that garment companies acknowledge the role that business models and sourcing practices can play in creating the conditions where workers are paid low wages within their supply chains, and explain how they will address these pressures in their efforts to deliver living wages.
It also recommended that companies increase transparency about the payment of living wages in their supplier payment and publish clear roadmaps and timescales for when and how they will fully achieve their commitments to pay living wage to workers.
‘A step change in approach will be necessary for garment companies to achieve living wages in their supply chains. The first step will be to adopt existing benchmarks and living wage calculation methodologies and to clearly map out how they will achieve living wages for different tiers of suppliers and by when,’ the research said.
Until companies can take such steps, living wage commitments are likely to remain in the realm of rhetoric rather than leading to substantial changes that address low-wages for workers in the global garment supply chain, report added.

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