There are an estimated 60m garment workers globally, with 60% based in Asia © LightRocket/Getty Images
There are an estimated 60m garment workers globally, with 60% based in Asia © LightRocket/Getty Images

Fashion brands must take 'meaningful action' on living wage

31 May 2019

Fashion brands are falling short on taking “meaningful action” on commitments to pay a living wage to garment workers, a report has said.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield found despite brands making commitments to paying garment workers in their supply chains a living wage, those commitments are not being realised on the ground.

The report, which explored commitments made by 20 fashion brands including Adidas, H&M and Primark, said: “Whilst garment companies have made ambitious commitments to pay living wages in their global supply chains they are falling short when it comes to meaningful action to implementing these commitments.”

Many brands have outsourced their wage commitments to multiple external initiatives, rather than changing their own core purchasing practices, it said. 

Companies have signed up to multi-stakeholder initiatives such as ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation) and commitments promoted by external organisations such as the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and IndustriALL Global Union federation, but researchers warned the schemes have “unenforceable standards”.

“This is a strategy that is very unlikely to result in meaningful change since some of the key practices that drive low wage payments, such as irresponsible sourcing practices (including the price and production window squeeze) and uneven value distribution remain in place,” the report said.

It also found there is weak enforcement of freedom of association rights which could disempower workers from raising concerns about unmet wage commitments.

Supply chain transparency, inconsistency and confusion surrounding the definition of a living wage, and a lack of living wage benchmarks are also hindering firms' progress in meeting commitments, it continued.

According to the ILO, there are an estimated 60m garment workers globally with around 60% concentrated in Asia.

Following the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh in 2013, in which over 1,100 people died, there has been increasing pressure for fashion brands to improve working conditions for garment workers.

Earlier this month, a separate report found Ethiopian garment workers were the lowest paid in the world, earning on average just $26 per month.

The report said eagerness to please foreign fashion companies led Ethiopian government officials to promote “wage levels that are clearly inadequate to sustain workers”.

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