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Can a new campaign help apparel manufacturers get paid fairly?

Opinion: Good Clothes Fair Pay wants Irish consumers to influence legislation requiring fashion brands to ensure garment workers are properly paid

By Alacoque McAlpine, TU Dublin; Kellie Dalton and Maeva Galvinfashion revolution

Wages have been a long-standing issue in fashion supply chains. Legal minimum wage levels are less than 50% of what is needed to ensure a decent living in the largest garment-producing countries. Consumers take low prices for granted and buy more each year. The industry is worth $3 trillion globally and global clothing consumption is expected to reach 102 million tons per year by 2030, the equivalent of 500 billion t-shirts.

Fashion shareholders reap the rewards of this consumption, but not those who make the clothes we buy. It now takes just four days for a CEO of one of the world’s top five fashion brands to earn what a Bangladeshi textile worker will earn in her lifetime. According Garment Worker Centre, approximately 85% of garment workers do not earn minimum wage.

Piece-rate payment terms have had a significant influence on lower wages and cheaper prices for consumers. This means garment workers are paid for every piece of clothing they make rather than having a set minimum hourly wage. In Los Angeles, for example, it could be between two and six cents for each item, or a monthly net salary of around $300. In January 2022, the Garment Worker Protection Act went into effect in California, banning piece-rate payment and requiring garment workers to be paid the minimum hourly wage.

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According to NBC News, garment workers say they are paid 3 cents per item

But piece-rate payments are still common in the industry globally. This is a global issue where women are disproportionately affected as they make up 80% of the workforce.

Bad practices and poverty wages

A previous Brainstorm article described how poor buying practices by global fashion brands, the most powerful players in apparel supply chains, have endemic exploitative working conditions and wages across the board. Of the industry. To meet brands’ demands for low-cost production, factory owners often reduce the most flexible cost; wages of workers.

NGO report that garment workers are running out of money before the end of the month, despite working 90-100 hour weeks. Many have to develop survival strategies such as taking out high-interest loans to pay for their children’s textbooks and bills, as well as avoiding the cost of necessary medical treatment. Garment workers can often only afford to eat half the calories needed to endure ten hours of industrial labor and often pass out on the job as a result.

A living wage has the potential to break this cycle of working poverty because it takes into account, country by country, the costs of food, housing, transport, health care and the margin for unforeseen events, for example example disease.

Countryside

The EU is the largest importer of clothing and textiles in the world, bringing in more than €80 billion of products annually, mainly from China, Bangladesh and Turkey. It has significant leverage to tackle the challenge of poverty wages and a coalition of NGOs, investors and living wage experts, including Fashion Revolution, Clean Clothes Campaign and Fairwear Foundation, wants to make sure this is the case.

The The Good Clothes, Fair Pay campaign is harnessing the power of EU citizens to call on the European Commission to introduce a new law requiring fashion brands and retailers to ensure people working in supply chains receive the less than a living wage. To do this, activists are using a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) allow citizens to approach the European Commission directly to propose legislation in an area of ​​EU competence. The campaign must collect at least one million signatures from EU citizens over a 12-month period from today. Ireland’s target is 9,165 signatures.

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From Fashion Revolution, an introduction to the Good Clothes Fair Pay campaign

What will this legislation mean for fashion brands?

If successful, this new legislation will make fashion brands and retailers liable for the wages of garment workers in their supply chains. They will no longer be able to consider salary issues as a problem that their suppliers must solve. More importantly, it will force brands and retailers to identify at-risk groups that are particularly affected by low wages, such as women and migrant workers.

What will this mean for garment workers?

If garment workers in global supply chains earned a living wage, it would lift entire families and communities out of poverty. It would also contribute to crucial economic and social development, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Nasreen Sheikh, a survivor of modern slavery and now a strong advocate for human rights around the world, says, “People in garment factories are fed like animals and work like machines. In order to liberate them, we must provide them with a living wage as soon as possible. possible”.

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From RTÉ Radio 1’s Drivetime, Dr Dee Duffy, Lecturer in Retail Management at TUD and Director of Education at Junk Kouture, on the issues of fast fashion

What will this mean for consumers?

Good clothes Fair pay shifts the power of consumers to boycott brands and buy less, buy better to influence the law. Buyers don’t simply have to trust their favorite brands and retailers to uphold their values ​​and a simple signature could legally bind them to do so. If carried out by enough citizens, this small but potentially historic act could lift millions of working women around the world out of the fashion poverty trap. All without a significant increase in the prices paid at the checkout. A report from Oxfam found that paying decent wages to garment workers would increase the final cost of a garment by just 1%, the equivalent of a 10 cent increase on a €10 t-shirt.

Good Clothes, Fair Pay also offers citizens a unique opportunity to extend the wave of feminist and anti-racist solidarity we have seen in recent years to members of communities in the clothing supply chain, who are often overlooked in the name of “affordable” fashion. .

Here’s what you can do

Good Clothes, Fair Pay needs one million signatures from European citizens to push for legislation that could transform the lives of working women in the fashion industry globally.

(i) Sign the petition

(ii) If you are not an EU citizen, help us spread the word by forwarding to your friends and sharing our social media posts.

(iii) Follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter for updates

Alacoque McAlpine is a Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Supply Chain Management at TU Dublin’s Faculty of Commerce. Kellie Dalton is a sustainability strategist and responsible fashion advisor who works with brands, retailers and supply chains. Maeva Galvin is Director of Global Campaigns and Policy at Fashion Revolution and manages the Good Clothes, Fair Pay campaign.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds