One of the biggest drivers for us to open Ginger Threads Collections was the issue of living wages within the garment industry. Our hearts are so vested in this topic and we know that we have an opportunity to be part of the change. Like anything, we need to understand the issues to be able to be part of the solution. We have been doing our research to better understand living wages and we want to share more with you because like us, you are consumers and you can make an impact - your need/want of new clothing and other goods drives the train for companies to produce the amount of things they do.
Why does it matter? When people aren’t paid a living wage, they are unable to afford a decent standard of living. The result is families being forced to:
- Send their children to work instead of to school
- Work excessive hours, often without overtime pay
- Become human trafficking victims
Within the fashion industry there has been a movement to ensure workers are paid the minimum wage within the countries they work, but as described above, is that enough? Sometimes minimum wage is far less than the living wage. There also continues to be issues across the entire supply chain. For example, garment workers may be paid minimum wage in the factory, but what about those who picked the cotton to make the fabric?
First, what is a living wage? The Anker definition is widely accepted: The remuneration received for a standard workweek by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family. Elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing, and other essential needs including provision for unexpected events.
Living wage is not the same as minimum wage. Often minimum wages are far less than what is required to afford the elements of a decent standard of living. Consider minimum wage in the United States - currently the federal minimum is $7.25 per hour. At $7.25/hour over the course of 4 weeks (160 hours), this adds up to making $1,160 a month, before taxes. States can of course set their minimum wage to more than that - with Washington DC having the highest minimum wage at $15 per hour. (www.DOL.gov). At $15/hour over the course of 4 weeks (160 hours), this adds up to making $2,400 a month, before taxes. Do you think the US minimum wage is a living wage?
So, how is living wage determined? Richard and Martha Anker are experts who spent over 15 years testing and perfecting the various aspects of a methodology to estimate living wages. The Anker methodology is a widely accepted and published methodology to estimate living wages that are both internationally comparable and locally specific.
According to the Global Living Wage Coalition, the garment and textile industry employs approximately 75 million people worldwide—that’s 1% of the world’s total population, with women forming 75% of the global workforce. They have conducted studies and calculated the living wages for several countries that have a significant garment and textile industry (data from www.globallivingwage.org). If you check the tags on the clothes in your closet, here’s the living wage estimates for the countries where they were most likely made, compared to what workers typically make:
- Dhaka City, Bangladesh $214 per month (garment workers are making approximately $107)
- Urban India $221 per month (garment workers are making approximately $152)
- Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, $290 per month (garment workers are making approximately $217.50)
- Rural India, $149 per month (although there is a minimum wage, many workers work for unregistered contractors or work by piece)
- Shenzhen, China, $428 per month (the current minimum wage is approximately $308)
As you can see, the living wage is not a lot of money. But, few are making near what living wage is calculated to be. Again, living wage isn’t meant to make people rich, it is allowing them to have things like food, shelter, healthcare, and education.
What can you do? Be a responsible consumer. Ask yourself if what you are buying is so inexpensive that there is no way that the person making it could have been paid a living wage. How we choose to spend our money will speak volumes. Spread the word and remember every purchase counts!