Global fashion brands not meeting living wage commitments, report finds

'There is little evidence that corporate commitments to living wages are translating into meaningful change on the ground'

Sabrina Barr
Wednesday 29 May 2019 16:15 BST
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Global fashion brands are failing to fulfil promises to provide workers with living wages, a new report has revealed.

On Thursday, academics from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) at the University of Sheffield published their findings from an investigation delving into corporate commitments to living wages in the garment industry.

The team assessed 20 global brands, including Nike, Primark, Adidas, H&M, Under Armour and Gucci.

The researchers evaluated the commitments each of the companies made to provide workers in their supply chains with living wages, and the actions the brands took to fulfil their promises.

They gathered data collated by a survey carried out by the Clean Clothes Campaign, in addition to statistics they accumulated themselves.

According to the report, 17 of the 20 clothing companies assessed are members of initiatives which declare themselves committed to providing workers in the supply chain with living wages.

Three of the companies investigated – H&M, C&A and G-Star RAW – were found to have a supplier code of conduct which requires workers to be paid wages which match the Clean Clothes Campaign's definition of a living wage.

However, the report also found that "most corporations are outsourcing their living wage commitments to MSIs [multi-stakeholder initiatives] and external initiatives".

By outsourcing their living wage commitments to external initiatives, this means that some companies have conflicting "definitions and approaches to living wages, causing their commitments to lack clarity".

Professor Genevieve LeBaron, professor of politics at the University of Sheffield, director of SPERI and project leader of the report, explained that living wage commitments don't always necessarily result in positive action.

"There is little evidence that corporate commitments to living wages are translating into meaningful change on the ground," Professor LeBaron said.

"As such, consumers are purchasing products they may believe are made by workers earning a living wage, when in reality, low wages continue to be the status quo across the global garment industry."

Professor LeBaron added that fashion corporations need to "adopt existing benchmarks and living wage calculation methodologies" so as to work towards providing living wages throughout their supply chains.

Tom Hunt, deputy director of SPERI, stated that if companies within the garment industry do not take action, "workers will continue to receive low wages that do not meet the basic needs of food, housing, medical care, clothing and transportation for themselves and their families".

In 2013, the Rana Plaza factory – an eight-storey garment factory in Bangladesh – collapsed, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,000 workers.

The collapse of the building led to greater focus on the conditions of workers in the garment factory.

The building's owner, Sohel Rana, was accused of ordering employees to carry on working despite reports of cracking plaster the day before the industrial disaster, and an engineer deeming the building "unsafe".

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As part of their investigation, the report's researchers outlined several key obstacles standing in the way of garment companies providing workers in their supply chains with living wages.

These include "inconsistency and confusion" among firms over what constitutes a living wage; lack of transparency among companies with regards to the wages they pay their workers; and companies' lack of a "roadmap" signalling how they will go about providing living wages in future.

Remi Edwards, research assistant on the report, emphasised the importance of global fashion brands meeting their living wage commitments.

"This matters for the 60 million garment workers around the world who make clothes for the industry and for the consumers who buy them," Edwards said.

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