A fair wage for global garment industry workers?

Michelle Russell for Just in Style

Western European garment industry workers in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India , China and South Africa ) earn only half a living wage, according to new research.

The study, carried out by Surrey’s Centre for Environment and Sustainability (CES) and published in The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment , shows that while globalisation has made the Western European clothing supply chain fairer by increasing employment opportunities and income for workers in BRIC countries, their income is still insufficient to support a decent standard of living.

The research paper, ‘Investigating fairness in global supply chains: applying an extension of the living wage to the Western European clothing supply chain’ , was conducted using a Social Life Cycle Assessment (SLCA) approach, in which impacts across the whole lifecycle of the product are considered. This means that rather than focusing solely on factory workers, the researchers considered all of those involved in the garment industry supply chain – including cotton growers and miners providing metal to make machinery.

The researchers estimated how much workers would need to be paid in order to be able to afford a decent, but not luxurious life: a living wage. The study found that garment factory workers are only paid around half the living wage, and agricultural workers even less.

Also taking into account financial demands on workers – income tax and social security contributions – in addition to wages, researchers found that in real terms, workers would need to be paid, on average, an additional 35% to offset these factors.

“Despite some improvements to workers’ income and employment opportunities through globalisation over the last 20 years, this research has demonstrated that workers are still not paid a living wage, so the supply chain cannot be described as ‘fair’,” said Research Fellow Dr Simon Mair.

“The next step is to look at the potential impact on companies and consumers if BRIC workers were paid a living wage. For example, a company may choose to absorb the additional cost, or might pass the cost onto consumers. Faced with a higher priced product, consumers might choose to buy less, which could in turn have a positive impact on the environment (by reducing carbon emissions) but possibly a negative social impact (by reducing employment).”

Angela Druckman, Professor of Sustainable Consumption and Production, added: “This research has implications for all those who are concerned about social justice along clothing supply chains.”

Article Sourced from Just In Style