Living Wages: The Problem

Posted on January 9th, 2020

Living Wages: The Problem

Living Wages: The Problem

…Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.

Everyone who works has the right to just and favorable remuneration [compensation] ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity. r (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23; Labour behind the label.org.)

Living wage is a human right — despite this, the majority of the world´s 40 million people making garments live in poverty; they are not able to provide enough food for their families or education for their children and despite of extensive overtime work, have to manage in inhumane living conditions.

Living wage is also a gender issue. In the global garment industry approximately 85% of garment workers are women, aged 18–35.

Oxfam Australia´s Made in Poverty –The True Price of Fashion report (Feb 2019) interviewed almost 500 garment workers in Vietnam and Bangladesh. The problems faced by the workers are as follows:

  • 9/10 workers interviewed in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for themselves and their families, forcing them to regularly skip meals and eat inadequately, or go into debt.
  • 72% of workers in Bangladesh and 53% in Vietnam who supply to major brands in Australia cannot afford medical treatment when they get sick or injured.
  • 76% of workers in Bangladesh factories supplying to major brands in Australia have no running water inside their home, and more than 40% in Vietnam reported worrying about having to use well or rain water.
  • In Bangladesh, one in three workers interviewed are separated from their children, with nearly 80% of those cases forced, due to a lack of adequate income.
  • Workers in both countries reported significant levels of verbal abuse, with workers in Bangladesh also report high levels of physical and sexual abuse.
  • Out of the interviewed, 99 % work overtime and 87% (in Bangladesh) are lending money for basic necessities, leading them into more trouble. Some were forced to take children out of school and/or sent them to work.

Oxfam´s report clearly shows that despite the lucrative and profitable image of the fashion industry — bringing in 3 Trillion USD — the workers producing these clothes cannot afford even the basics of a decent life, and end up stagnated in in-work poverty and mere subsistence living.

It is important to note that while many workers in Bangladesh are being exploited and underpaid, some brands are shifting production to Africa in an effort to maximize profits even further.

A study done by New York University estimated that in Ethiopia, the young women workers earn $26 USD/month, the lowest wages in the world and only a quarter of the minimum wage of Bangladesh. The workers have reported fainting regularly because they don’t make enough to eat.

The slogan of the past campaign for workers’ rights still summarizes the issue clearly from the factory worker´s point of view: I want to live, not just exist.

In the upcoming newsletters and blog posts, we are going to explore solutions and practical tools developed by NGOs, researchers and labor unions to help start working towards the living wages.

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