Pay a Living Wage Campaign: Consumers Call for an End to Poverty Pay

The Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland is joining its European partners in launching a new campaign calling on clothing companies to Pay a Living Wage to garment workers. The Pay a Living Wage campaign begins on 21st October 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, millions of workers continue to 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 (27,369 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 taking time off due to unsafe working conditions or 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 €289.64 (1,596,059 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 Kate Nolan, Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland.

The Irish Clean Clothes Campaign has brought this issue into focus with their 50sense Campaign, choosing to highlight the truly tiny amount extra it would cost to achieve a living wage within the garment supply chain.

“Arguments of supply and demand and cost sensitive markets don’t stand up against such a insignificant number. Just 50 cent more per garment, paid directly to a worker is the difference between her living with dignity or within a spiraling poverty trap.” says Kate Nolan, Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland.

The increase of this €0.50 per garment would account for an adjustment of between just 2% and 3.5% to a retailer’s profit margin, a mere drop in the ocean of retailers like Penneys, H&M or Benetton who’s profits soar into the billions each year but as of yet no retailer has successfully integrated a living wage system into their supply chains.

Yet a recent survey carried out by Clean Clothes Campaign Ireland shows consumers expect retailers to do just this. According to Nolan,

“We have seen a clear expectation expressed by consumers for retailers to pay a living wage to their workers. Of the 100 participants, 93% felt it was the responsibility of retailers to ensure their workers were paid a living wage, but we also saw that over 99% or consumers were willing to absorb part or all of the extra cost if retailers demanded it of them.”

“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 benefitting those who work within it.”

The 50 sense Campaign is supported by NGOs, unions, schools, colleges and community groups across Ireland and from October 21st they will join activists and advocates for change across Europe to demand clothing companies take control of their supply chains and pay a living wage.

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 supply 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.

Afri is supporting the Pay a Living Wage Campaign.  You can sign a petition to demand that the people who make your clothes are paid a living wage:

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