Since the beginning of this century, global brands sourcing clothing from low wage countries around the world have acknowledged on paper that wages paid to workers should be enough to meet their basic needs. Yet, two decades on, workers and their families remain in stark poverty. The garment industry has continued for all this time to use workers’ low cost labour to make mass profits. Their so called ‘commitments’ to ensure wages are enough have made little or no real difference. Brands wield huge power and millions of dollars of business every year in the garment industry. They have the freedom to pick and choose from low-cost and low-wage economies and in these markets, brands can dictate prices, quantity and quality, with little consideration for the impact on supplier factories and their workers. The dominant business model pits country against country, and supplier against supplier in a global race to the bottom. In the face of the huge downward pressure on price and wage, almost all initiatives to tackle poverty wages have been unsuccessful. The brands’ business model is the real reason that workers remain mired in poverty. Poverty wages remain a critical issue that is at the centre of systematic exploitation in the global garment industry. Conversely, the right to a living wage could be a key in bringing about a global shift. Solutions to this issue cascade to solutions to a whole list of associated problems for workers such as excessive overtime, poor housing, poor nutrition and health risks, risk of child labour, and more. The focus of this study into what brands are doing to address wages in supplier networks is therefore an essential indicator of whether any brand is contributing to, or detracting from, decent work for the people who make our clothes.
The Clean Clothes Campaign last carried out a similar study in 2014 – Tailored Wages: Are the big brands paying the people who make our clothes enough to live on? 1 – where we found some promises from brands that work was going to progress on delivering a living wage. 5 years on, we wanted to look at whether any of the programmes we evaluated then had resulted in payment of a living wage – how many workers are actually now being paid a living wage as a result of brands’ supposed commitments? This year the Clean Clothes Campaign, once again, asked brands what they were doing to ensure that a workers’ right to a living wage was met. We contacted 20 leading brands, covering luxury, sportswear, fast fashion, and online retail sectors, to find out if a living wage was being delivered. The study focuses on looking at the outcomes, rather than awarding credit for process or interim steps to find solutions, in order get a true picture of what wage programmes are currently doing to make any real difference in the face of globalisation. We found that, while some brands are doing more than others to promote better practices, no brand can yet show that living wages are being paid to any worker in supply chains outside their own headquarter countries. 5 years on from ‘Tailored Wages’ we had hoped to find more to report. Our message to brands is that workers can’t wait any longer. Human rights are pressing and vital. We need a living wage now.