Consumers call for an end to poverty pay

published 21-10-2013 10:15, last modified 21-10-2013 10:42
Activists in 15 countries across Europe demand clothing brands pay a living wage to garment workers.

Today, Oct 21,  the Clean Clothes Campaign is launching a new campaign across Europe calling on clothing companies to Pay a Living Wage to garment workers. The Pay a Living Wage campaign begins with a week of action in 15 European countries.

The campaign launch comes exactly six months after the devastating collapse of Rana Plaza, in which 1,133 Bangladeshi workers were killed. Six months on from the largest industrial accident to hit the garment industry still millions of workers have no choice but to risk their lives in order to afford a decent life.

In Bangladesh, where an estimated 4 million people work in the garment industry, the current minimum wage is just €28.60 (3,000 taka) a month.  This is 11% of the €259.80 (25,687 taka) that Clean Clothes Campaign partner the Asia Floor Wage Alliance calculates to be a living wage for the country.

For many workers, the lack of a living wage means they must work long hours to earn overtime or bonuses and cannot risk refusing work due to unsafe working conditions or taking time off for ill health.

“We force ourselves to work long hours because the salary is not enough to live on, especially because my parents are dependent on my salary as well” says Horn Vy, a 25 year old garment worker in Cambodia.

For Horn Vy and other Cambodian garment workers the minimum wage is €60.95 (336,000 riel), just 21% of the €285.83 (1,582,668 riel) the Asia Floor Wage Alliance calculates to be a living wage in Cambodia. 

“A living wage should be earned before overtime and allow a garment worker to be able to feed herself and her family, pay the rent, pay for healthcare and education and have a small amount of savings for when something unexpected happens.” says Dr. Jeroen Merk, Clean Clothes Campaign.

Over 15 million people are employed within the garment industry in Asia alone, with the region accounting for more than 60 % of garment production worldwide. Yet, as the campaign highlights the people sustaining the industry in factories and workplaces continue to be paid poverty wages.

Low wages mean that workers often have to rely on loans just to make ends meet and have no savings to use if they find themselves out of work, due to illness, unexpected factory closure or if, as with Rana Plaza, there is a disaster such as building collapse or fire.

“Companies must take steps to ensure they are paying a living wage in the countries they source from. Governments must ensure that minimum wages are set at levels that allow people to live with dignity. While low labour costs continue to be exploited throughout the industry it remains impossible to argue that the garment industry is benefiting those who work within it.” Continues Dr. Merk.

The Pay a Living Wage campaign is calling on: 

  • clothing brands and companies to take action by setting concrete and measurable steps throughout their supply chain to ensure garment workers get paid a living wage.
  • national governments in garment producing countries to make sure minimum wages are set at living wage standards.
  • European governments to implement regulation that make sure companies are responsible for the impact they have on the lives of workers in their suppply chain, including their right to earn a living wage.

The week of action will see campaigners across Europe promoting a consumers’ living wage petition at press conferences, via social networks (#livingwage), films, street actions, conferences and celebrity testimonials.  Activities in major shopping streets will include pop up recruitment agencies on the streets of Stockholm and headhunters on Amsterdam's famous Kalverstraat advertising for people willing to work at least 12 hour days with no toilet breaks, wages below the poverty level in dangerous conditions.