The other day I was having a coffee while my son was playing around with another baby. I befriended the dad and we started talking about what we do. His company had some t-shirts made, and the person who sold him this t-shirts said that what was most important was livable wages.
So what are livable wages? And how to achieve such a thing? Who is responsible?
A livable wage is the wage that allows you to support yourself and your family all year through, allowing you to acquire the essential basic needs. In India, the livable wage has been stated to be 16.000 rupees. That is 226€. (http://www.cleanclothes.org/livingwage/asia-floor-wage-in-local-currency) Of course this depends on your lifestyle. Whether you’re ready to hop on a train for some family function or you must hop on a plane. So let’s assume workers at the clothing industry are happy to travel even cheaper, by bus. Of course a livable wage is not to be confused with the minimum wage. No sir!!! Minimum wages are not livable wages even in Europe. But could the clothing industry do more to satisfy this livable wage, considering the revenue it generates?
Minimum salary in India for someone who works at the clothing industry is between 4.000 to 5.000 Rupees (up to 70€) [http://www.citehr.com/487852-minimum-wages-tailoring-industry-2014-15-tamilnadu.html]. Now I have been living in India for some time, and believe me, that is not enough for all the expenses all year through. So when someone is asked who wants to work extra hours, yes most of them do. Well they don’t want to, but what other choice do they have? They might not be coerced to work directly by the factory, but they really have no choice. They are coerced by the system. They need the money to cover basic expenses. And yes, family weddings are basic expenses in India.
But furthermore, how about the pressure we actually do to make these companies, whether Fair Trade certified or not, need to do extra hours. We impose time limits to a culture and traditions we do not comprehend. It doesn’t work that way. Whether it’s India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, Turkey, etc, the living and working conditions are different. For example, we don’t want our christmas disturbed, but when their festivities come, we don’t seem to comprehend work can’t be done. It’s their holidays. And yes, sometimes it gets on the way of your productions, cause it gets on the way of your retailers. It gets on the way of the seasons.
For example, t-shirts are generally made in India at Tiruppur, Tamil Nadu. They celebrate Pongal in January for a whole week. Workers go back to their families, sometimes 100’s of kilometers away and they don’t come back. They don’t come back because they find another job, because they don’t have money to go back, many reasons. So factories have to start a hiring process. And this happens a couple of times a year. There is also Diwali, weddings, religious functions, etc.
We demand, not ask for, demand, low deadlines and cheap costs. Still we ask for workers to be paid fairly. You will pay for a t-shirt 3-5 euros FOB. So that a person in India for example can have a dignified living wage, that t-shirt should cost 3.5 to 5.5 euros FOB. So when you are bargaining your price, you could actually be bargaining their livable wages. Now of course this is only a generalization, there are many other factors involved.
We demand low prices (we actually bargain the price until the lowest possible), at fair trade conditions, excellent quality, and on-time. How does that makes us Fair in any way? And I am not talking about Fast Fashion multimillionaire companies who we in the sustainable business reprimand when a factory is burned down or some news declares the poor conditions of some workers at Cambodia. I’m talking about the fashion that uses organic cotton, that want women groups to make their garments, that look for cooperatives to produce their fabrics, that demand excellent quality cause their product is already expensive. Because at the end of the day, Fast Fashion and Slow Fashion are both subject to retailers and seasons. And we need to make the deadlines.
So I asked this fellow I had just met, how does this T-shirt company ensure livable wages for the workers of the factory he produces at? Basically they produce all year through at the same company. And that company produces only to them. So yes, I can see that happening. But most of us in the sustainable business we can’t afford that right? We wish we were there, but let’s be realistic. We want to do 50 t-shirts not 20.000.
Nudie Jeans declares that they pay their share of the living wages to the workers at the factory in India. Like most of us, their production is still not big enough to ensure production all year through at the same company, so other companies produce there also. But it seems to me like a good start. As we promote, the only way to achieve sustainability in the fashion industry is through a long-term relationship. And we can’t try to be 100% sustainable.
100% sustainability in the fashion industry does not exist.
At the end, responsibility on livable wages fall not only on the factory, but the producers, the governments, the retailers, the magazines and bloggers, and generalizing, the system.