Blog by Jessica Simor QC, barrister at Matrix chambers, member of The Lawyer’s Circle, expert on fair pay and human rights, and author of our new report, Fashion Focus: A Proposal for New EU Legislation on a Living Wage.
It is time for us to come together to end poverty pay for the millions of garment workers across the world who make the clothes we wear. Minimum wages in garment producing countries are way below that necessary to provide for a basic decent life, and without strengthened legislation there is little hope of change.
In our view, new legislation is needed to address structural deficiencies in the market, which cannot be met merely by due diligence statements or voluntary agreements. If we are serious about protecting human rights and promoting sustainable development, then workers cannot continue to be paid wages that do nothing more than sustain poverty. Remuneration must be sufficient to ensure a basic decent life and so allow for the prospect of change.
Our latest report, Fashion Focus: A Proposal for New EU Legislation on a Living Wage, proposes a mechanism to address this issue. We are calling on the EU to introduce new legislation to end the race to the bottom.
It is a timely report. COVID-19 has brought much economic activity to a standstill and with it a growing awareness of the extreme vulnerability of workers in global supply chains. As consumer demand fell away, many clothing companies cancelled production contracts, invoking force majeure clauses or defaulting on payments. Factories closed and workers were let go, often without being paid for work they had completed. One study estimated that garment workers lost between $3.19 – $5.78 billion in unpaid wages in the first three months of the pandemic alone (March-May 2020).
The pandemic has left vast numbers of garment workers (a workforce that totals over 80 million globally), the majority of whom are women, in an even weaker position than they were before the pandemic. With reduced or nil income and no savings, many have faced destitution, with no safety net to fall back on.
“I work in a garment factory. Our factory has laid us off and we have not received the due wages. We are worried about not getting paid, but if we do that the amount will not be in full. They will deduct our wage. According to the labour law I have heard that, we can get the half of the wage for the laid off period but that will be very small in amount. How will we manage our house rent and food with this amount?” Mos. Laboni Akter Salma
The fashion industry, with an estimated global value of $2.5 trillion, has a history of poverty wages. Despite companies signing up to voluntary commitments, a 2019 report by The Clean Clothes Company, showed that no brand could show that a living wage was being paid to workers making their products in developing countries.
It is precisely because of the lack of legislation to protect garment workers that many were left so vulnerable when the pandemic hit. If implemented, our legislative proposal could create a regime that regulates to generate an upward trend in wages for workers in the garment industry’s global supply chains.
Workers have suffered for too long. As nations make promises to ‘build back better’ in the years ahead, worker remuneration can no longer be allowed to embed poverty and prevent development; wages sufficient to ensure a decent life must be put at the forefront of sustainability efforts – exploitation must end.
Read the full report here
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