Looking at the average cost structure of a t-shirt, it’s absolutely disgusting how unfair it is. How have workers’ wages remained so low and retail margins so high?
Minimum wages are the legal, lowest wages allowed to be paid to workers, set by governments. Originally, setting minimum wages in law was meant to ensure that workers were always legally paid fairly for their work – with wages being enough for living healthily and in decent accommodation. In reality, governments have instead entered a ‘race-to-the-bottom’ on wages, trying to attract foreign companies by suppressing wage levels and keeping them low. The result has been that in many countries, including the key garment-producing countries of Asia, legal minimum wages are as low as a quarter of what people really need as a fair, living wage.
This price competition is accelerating at the expense of the workers, mostly women, who make our clothes – and resulting in poverty wages.
What are your recommendations to brands that want to pay a fair living wage but can’t afford to get fair trade certified?
At the end of the day, it is the responsibility of the garment companies to ensure that no human rights abuse take place in their supply chain. What we know is that right now in these supply chains women are being paid poverty wages. They are sleeping on floors, unable to buy enough food at the end of the month and living in slums. This is unacceptable but it is what is happening in the supplier factories of Australian garment companies.
To help brands, Oxfam has developed a handbook A Sewing Kit for Living Wages, and further recommendations are on page 32 What She Makes.
Send an email to Australian brands or sign the petition here.
*Please note the answers have been edited for editorial purposes.