Why Is It So Hard For Clothing Manufacturers To Pay A Living Wage?

by MR Magazine Staff

In the garment industry, stories about workers who barely eke out an existence on “starvation wages” are legion: Factory workers in New Delhi often describe living in makeshift hovels “barely fit for animals.” A young woman from Myanmar might wrestle with the decision to feed her children or send them to school. In Bangladesh, sewing-machine operators frequently toil for 100 hours or more a week, only to run out of money before the end of the month. Workers have demanded higher pay in all those countries, of course, sometimes precipitating violence between protesters and police. Companies in general, however, have preferred to sidestep the issue altogether. In fact, no multinational brand or retailer currently claims to pay its garment workers a wage they can subsist on. To be fair, defining a “living wage” can be a tricky business, one that requires some complex mathematics. Even within the same country, the minimum income a worker requires to afford basic needs — food, shelter, clothing, medicine — can vary wildly from one locale to another. Plus, as brands are wont to remind people, most of them don’t own the factories that produce their clothes, meaning they neither pay for the garment workers’ wages nor determine what those wages are. So when H&M declared in November 2013 that it would deliver a “fair living wage” to more than 850,000 workers across 750 factories by the end of 2018, the announcement was nothing short of a bombshell. Read more at Racked.