In order to accelerate the journey toward more prevalent living wages, much greater transparency around wages is fundamental. And, there is no wage that is more telling than the lowest wage–not the average wage, not the “labor cost” within a product–but the lowest wage. For better or for worse, consumers often applaud brands for their transparency when brands share things like the “labor cost” that went into making a garment or the “average wage” in their factories. The problem with only sharing the labor cost (Example: a $10 labor cost within a $50 sweater) is that it often includes within it the profitable markup that a factory takes and workers never touch. Sharing the labor cost is a step forward in transparency, but it does very little to ensure that fair pay is taking place. Average wages are also misleading. Average wages usually take into account the wages of administration and executive staff of manufacturers. When it takes a factory worker 1.5 years to earn what a large fashion brand CEO makes on their lunch break, you begin to see how sharing metrics like labor cost or average wages is not as transparent as it may seem at first glance and certainly does not inherently drive toward living wages (Source: Fashion Revolution, 2017).
In contrast, determining the lowest wage and how far it is from a living wage changes everything. Knowing the lowest wage establishes a critical baseline and helps us understand whether or not the wages of brands and factories are on a trajectory toward living wages. Therefore, by identifying and openly sharing the lowest wage, brands take the first step toward protecting the most vulnerable workers and everyone else in their supply chains as well.
Lastly, focusing on the lowest wage prioritizes honesty over perfection. The truth is the industry has a very long way to go. Even ABLE and us, the #LowestWageChallenge founding brands do not have all tiers of their supply chains at a living wage. Focus on the lowest wage requires the industry and consumers to embrace that you don’t have to be perfect before you can be honest at a time when greater, truthful transparency in the industry could not be more paramount.