Rather than sharing in the responsibility of living wages within their supply chains, there are five ways that major fashion brands are actively dodging responsibility today:
- Brands dodge responsibility by saying they pay “the legal minimum wage.” However, minimum wages in many manufacturing countries within the fashion industry are only half of what would be considered a living wage (Source: Global Fashion Agenda, 2017). Brands choose not to address this fact and instead avoid the problem they are contributing toward by putting forth an unjust argument.
- Brands dodge responsibility by claiming living wages are too costly. Some brands claim that paying workers a living wage is too difficult from an expense perspective, but that’s not entirely true. Studies show that it would only cost a brand 1-4% more per garment to ensure living wages across their supply chain (Source: Oxfam, 2019).
- Brands dodge responsibility by saying the factory is responsible, not them. In many cases, brands shift the responsibility of ensuring a living wage to the manufacturer from whom they purchase. The problem with this logic is that those same brands are using their purchasing power to demand an extremely low cost from factories for the products they buy. And, the factories know there is always a threat that major brands will leave if they try to raise prices in order to pay workers more. A poignant real-life example of this appears in The True Cost (a groundbreaking documentary available on most streaming services) where a factory owner in Bangladesh explains–in intense tears–this sad reality.
- Brands dodge responsibility by saying workers are responsible. In other cases, major brands put the responsibility ON THE WORKERS themselves, claiming that “collective bargaining” and the right to create unions is the #1 protection of living wages. The problem with this logic? The reality is that workers are often threatened with losing their jobs when wages are challenged, and in some cases, even physically beaten by management. Again, hear the stories of real life garment industry workers in The True Cost, and you’ll quickly see how little power workers often have behind closed doors thousands of miles away from the final destination of our clothing.
- Brands dodge responsibility by saying living wages are too hard to calculate. Brands claiming that providing a living wage is not possible because living wages are difficult to calculate is a sad excuse. While they may not be perfect, living wage global benchmarks such as WageIndicator and Trading Economics are widely available (and MIT publishes a public database that shares what a living wage is in every county of the U.S.). On top of using these resources, brands can simply ask their workers what their living expenses are and establish the lowest wage based on those figures. Nisolo and ABLE have done this in many of their factories and have used affordable 3rd party auditor, ACCOUNTABLE to verify living wages. Sadly, most brands are not using these resources to improve the wages they pay their factory workers.