Action Update: Winter 2018

Action Update: Winter 2018

Find our what Labour Behind the Label have been up to in our bi-annual Action Update.


This issue looks at the potential for devastation as the Bangladesh Transition Accord, protecting the safety of Bangladeshi garment workers, is in peril due to a High Court injunction to remove it, jeopardising the safety of millions of workers. Remaining in Bangladesh, we look at the desperate action workers are taking, including going on hunger strike, to demand an increase to the minimum wage. There is information on the UK’s home-grown sweatshop factories in Leicester, as well as our Black Friday action in the face of H&M’s failed promise to pay a living wage. We also celebrate the success of our Invisible Threads fundraising Art Auction, which raised an amazing £2,800.

Read it here: Action Update Winter 2018

Action Update: Summer 2018

Action Update: Summer 2018

Find our what Labour Behind the Label have been up to in our bi-annual Action Update.


This issue marks five years since the devastating Rana Plaza building collapse in Bangladesh, and this issue takes a look at which brands have yet to sign the Transition Accord for Bangladeshi workers safety, and marks campaign success as Next, Sainsburys and Debenhams sign up to protect their workers. We are celebrating a transparency campaign win as fast-fashion clothing giant Primark caves to pressure and discloses their supplier list. There is information on H&M’s forgotten promise to pay a living wage to their garment workers, a message to the England football team as they return home from a strong World Cup performance, and a celebration for the acquittal of Cambodian workers rights activist Tola Moeun.

Read it here: Action Update Summer 2018

Report: Adidas and Nike pay record-breaking amounts to footballers, but deny decent wages to women stitching their shirts

Report: Adidas and Nike pay record-breaking amounts to footballers, but deny decent wages to women stitching their shirts

Report: Adidas and Nike pay record-breaking amounts to footballers, but deny decent wages to women stitching their shirts

While millions of people are getting ready to cheer their favorite teams during the Football World Cup, a report by Éthique sur l’étiquette and Clean Clothes Campaign, ‘Foul Play’, reveals that adidas and Nike, major sponsors of the global event, pay poverty wages to the thousands of women in their supply chain that sew the football shirts and shoes of players and supporters.

Download the report here >>

Published June 2018.

Will H&M deliver on its promise to pay a living wage in 2018?

Will H&M deliver on its promise to pay a living wage in 2018?

25 November 2017

Garment workers are waiting for an answer – will H&M deliver on its promise to pay a living wage in 2018?

Four years ago today, fashion giant H&M made a bold promise that, if kept, would mean a game changer for the industry. On 25 November 2013, the company vowed to pay what H&M calls a ‘fair living wage’ to the garment workers in its supply chain by 2018. On the fourth anniversary of H&M’s historic statement, with 2018 just around the corner, Clean Clothes Campaign – including UK-based Labour Behind the Label and global partners – are anticipating the moment next year when every garment worker who stitches clothes for H&M will receive a living wage.

H&M actually paying garment workers a living wage would be a ground-breaking development, as up until today poverty wages remain the norm in the global garment industry, including throughout H&M’s supply chain. The wages that garment workers, most of which are women, currently receive are miles away from what would constitute a living wage: a salary that would enable a worker to live a decent life, including a healthy diet for a worker and their family, proper housing, access to medical care, access to education and transportation and some discretionary income, to use in case of unforeseen events.

Over the past five years since declaring their living wage initiative, H&M has been notoriously opaque regarding its plans, which has raised questions as to whether their promise was merely a publicity stunt to allay public concern about their fast fashion brand. Currently, average wages at H&M supplier factories in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and India are only slightly above the national minimum wages. In Bangladesh, for example H&M claims that workers at its suppliers earn on average $87 per month, which is even below the World Bank poverty line of $88 per month. As a result of their low wages, workers and their children suffer from malnutrition. Estimates on what a living wage constitutes vary, but on average they indicate that wages in Bangladesh would need to triple in order for workers to afford a healthy diet, proper housing, access to medical care and access to education for children. The dire situation of workers stitching clothes for H&M in Bangladesh became particularly clear in December 2016 when thousands of workers spontaneously hit the streets to protest for higher wages in the district of Ashulia, many of which worked for factories supplying H&M.

The low minimum wages in garment producing countries are set nationally by the government. However, these governments are slow in raising wages out of fear of losing garment orders critical to the national economy, leading to an international race to the bottom. Ineke Zeldenrust, of Clean Clothes Campaign, explains: “Brands could influence these wages, by reassuring governments that raising minimum wages will not make them leave, investing in long term relationships with their suppliers and assuring them that they will continue to receive orders even if prices go up, and taking direct responsibility for wages through direct payments on top of their orders to their supplier factories, to increase wages to living wage standards. As the most important player for Bangladesh’s exports, H&M can have considerable influence over these wages.”

Shortly after the great fanfare of their remarkable living wage promise, H&M set out to reformulate this promise towards a less ambitious course. Instead of paying all the workers in its supply chain a living wage directly, H&M clarified it would only put ‘mechanisms’ in place which would enable payment of living wages to at least 80% of the workers its supply chain. The actual practical and measurable steps to achieve this goal have not been shared publicly, nor has H&M been transparent about its wage pilot projects. This precludes workers and labour organisations from tracking progress of H&M’s living wage promise.

The goal that H&M set itself in 2013, to pay a living wage to 850,000 garment workers in their supply chain, while ambitious, is certainly possible and affordable for a company with the size, profit, and power of H&M. For example, the company’s chairman himself, Stefan Persson, could easily provide the H&M workers with a top up on their wages until the moment that H&M has sorted out the payment of a living wage. He is currently worth 19.9 billion dollars, which would be enough to pay all H&M garment workers in Bangladesh a full living wage for the next thirty years.

Ineke Zeldenrust states: “H&M certainly has the financial means to ‘walk the talk’, and has stated time and again they want to be a leader on these issues. We have looked at the numbers and if H&M were to reallocate just one year of its annual advertising budget towards wages, they could pay their Cambodian workers a living wage for 6.5 years.”

H&M’s net profit in 2016 was over $2 billion USD (18,636 million SEK). It would cost H&M only 1.9% of this profit to pay all its workers in Cambodia the additional $78 USD every month they would need to meet a living wage standard. 

Notes to the editor:

Benchmarks on what constitutes a living wage in Bangladesh differ. The current minimum wage (5,300 taka) is only 27% of the average of these estimated living wages.


Global Living Wage Alliance (2016) Wage Indicator Foundation (2016) CPD & Berenschot (2013) Asia Floor Wage Alliance (2015)
BDT 16,460 (Dhaka)
BDT 13,630 (satellite cities)

> BDT 12,200


< BDT 18,000

BDT 17,786 BDT 37,661
Current wages would have to almost triple to reach living wage standards. Current wages would have to double to triple to reach living wage standards. Current wages would have to triple to reach living wage standards. Current wages would have to septuple to reach living wage standards.
http://www.isealalliance.org/sites/default/files/Dhaka_Living_Wage_Benchmark_Infographic.pdf http://wageindicator-wages-in-context.silk.co/page/Bangladesh CPD & Berenschot (2013) Estimating a Living Minimum Wage for the Ready Made Garment Industry in Bangladesh. https://asia.floorwage.org/


Labour Behind the Label campaigns for garment workers’ rights worldwide. Labour Behind the Label represent the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) in the UK. The CCC works to improve conditions and support the empowerment of workers in the global garment industry. The CCC has national campaigns in 15 European countries with a network of 250 organisations worldwide.


Ineke Zeldenrust, Clean Clothes Campaign, ineke@cleanclothes.org, +31 20 4122785/+31 6 51280210

The Right to a Living Wage

The Right to a Living Wage

Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care, necessary social services, and the right to security.

United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Article 25.1

The global fashion industry is worth over £36 billion per year in the UK, and yet the majority of its workers rarely earn more than two dollars a day.  Many have to work excessive hours for this meager amount and struggle to properly feed, clothe and educate their families.  In many cases, garment workers earn less that the national poverty levels set by governments and international organisations.  This situation is further antagonized when prices paid to suppliers are cut by brands and retailers.

When challenged on the wage issue, most companies claim that workers in their supply chains should be paid the minimum wage or the industry standard in that country, whichever is higher.  But this isn’t enough.  Minimum wages, usually defined by governments, are set in the context of ferocious competition and consequently often fall well below these governments’ own poverty thresholds.  Furthermore, a minimum wage is often well below what is required for decent living standards and research indicates that many suppliers are not paying this legal minimum.

The problem is complicated further when the millions of piece-rate workers and homeworkers within the industry are considered.  When workers are paid for the number of garments they produce, rather than the number of hours they work, it becomes near-impossible for them to earn a living wage during a working week.  This informal employment makes workers more vulnerable to seasonal variations in work and often means they lose out on security payments, such as pensions or health insurance. Workers have reported that there is often a delay in wage payments, which means they are then forced into debt in order to avoid losing money.  The garment workforce is 80% female, and many of them have responsibilities as parents or carers for other family members.  Many young people travel from the countryside to work in the garment industry and rely on sending their small wages back to their families.

Labour Behind the Label believes that workers are entitled to be paid a living wage.

 This is defined as one which provides workers with a discretionary income that meets their needs for nutritious food and clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport. It should be enough to provide for the basic needs of workers and their families, to allow them to participate fully in society and to live with dignity.  It should take into account the cost of living, social security benefits and the standard of living of others nearby. Finally, it should be based on a standard working week of no more than 48 hours, before overtime, and should apply after any deductions. Overtime hours should be paid at an overtime rate and this should be properly and clearly recorded on a wage slip.

Positive steps are being taken in the campaign for living wages. 

Many companies now have Codes of Conduct which outline the standards that they commit to upholding.  However, many of these practices are having little effect in the communities that are in desperate need of change.  In Bangladesh, wages have fallen by as much as half, despite increased consumer spending on clothes.  Companies need to investigate why their apparent commitment is not having the effect it should, as many workers still struggle to survive on the breadline.

Until recently it had been difficult to define a living wage.  The Asia Floor Wage Alliance uses the same definition of a living wage as Labour Behind the Label and takes this forward to calculate a pan-Asian ‘floor wage’ – literally a base level wage – which should function regardless of nationality, gender or workplace to provide a singular minimum living wage figure for all workers across the Asian garment industry.

It is certainly becoming increasingly necessary to adopt an agreed ‘floor wage’ across the whole industry.  The threat of relocation if wages and other costs increase contributes to the sense of fear that prevents workers from joining trade unions.  Many companies are wary of adopting a living wage for fear it will mean being priced out of the market.  Furthermore, factories that produce lines for a variety of retailers refuse wage changes that would complicate their pay system, particularly if they were expected to pay higher wages for the production of certain lines.  Only by working together can the brands end the downward spiral in the prices on which their competitiveness depends.

A ‘floor wage’ should give suppliers the confidence to negotiate prices that factor in a living wage, and to set meaningful minimum wages that will benefit the workers.

Further information available from:

Press Release: Workers’ rights protests target Bangladesh Embassies in London, Europe and US

Press Release: Workers’ rights protests target Bangladesh Embassies in London, Europe and US

Labour Behind the Label
16 February 2017

Thursday 16 February: Labour Behind the Label will join the TUC, UNISON and other unions at a protest today at the Bangladesh High Commission in London, to demand an end to the repression of trade unions and the release of arrested unionists.

Where: Bangladesh High Commission, 28 Queen’s Gate, London
When: 12.30pm, Thursday 16 February

See below for the full press release from the Clean Clothes Campaign.

Here is some further comment on the London protest:

In the latest move in a programme of systematic intimidation of Bangladesh’s trade union movement, nine members of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation, an IndustriALL affiliate, were detained over the weekend of 11-12 February in Chittagong after police interrupted a training session in union offices. The new arrests, and, in particular, the targeting of national-level union leaders, represent an escalation of the government’s campaign of repression against the Bangladesh’s unions.

An international campaign launched by the Clean Clothes Campaign alongside a joint union campaign by global union federations IndustriALL, UNI Global Union and the ITUC, are calling for an end of the repression of trade unions in Bangladesh, with a day of action planned for Thursday 16 February. The TUC, UNISON and other unions, and Labour Behind the Label and the Clean Clothes Campaign, will hold a protest outside the Bangladesh High Commission in London at 12:30 on Thursday. We will call for an end to the crackdown and the withdrawal of all charges.

Since December 2016 at least 26 trade unionists and garment workers in Bangladesh have been jailed for participating in a strike following demands to increase the minimum wage. In addition, more than 1,600 workers have been fired and police have filed cases against 600 workers and trade union leaders, including charges of terrorism. 

The government of Bangladesh is clearly using the strike as a catalyst for a broad crackdown on trade unions. Many union leaders have gone into hiding for fear of being arrested and union offices have been closed and vandalised.

The nine trade unionists in Chittagong have been released on bail, but the charges have still not been dropped.

Contact: Nicola Round, Labour Behind the Label: nicola@labourbehindthelabel.org


PRESS RELEASE: Clean Clothes Campaign / Labour Behind the Label

Campaign targets Bangladesh Embassies

Protests will be held at Bangladesh Embassies across Europe and North America this week, in order to demand an end to the biggest crackdowns on workers’ rights ever seen in the country’s garment industry. As part of the #EveryDayCounts campaign, activists from the Clean Clothes Campaign will join with the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), UNI Global Union and IndustriALL Global Union to call for an immediate end to the persecution of garment workers, trade union leaders and worker activists in Bangladesh. Since December, over 35 trade union leaders, organisers and workers have been arrested and detained for taking part in protests.

The call for action has been issued after weeks of intense anti-union repression by the government and factory owners following  a non-violent work stoppage by hundreds of workers in Ashulia – an industrial area close to the capital Dhaka – to demand an immediate tripling of the minimum wage. Bangladesh garment workers remain the lowest paid garment workers in the world, and have not received a pay rise in over three years, despite soaring inflation in the cost of basic goods.

Sam Maher from Clean Clothes Campaign says: “This is the biggest setback for the garment industry since the collapse of Rana Plaza in 2013 and might cause the Bangladesh government to lose their key export market. It is not possible to talk of a safe or sustainable industry in Bangladesh when even peaceful attempts to ask for workplace improvements are met with such disproportionate violence and repression. Garment workers in Bangladesh have the unequivocal right to organise and must be paid a living wage on which they can survive.”

Anti-union repression has dramatically increased over recent weeks, impacting on workers and unions across the country. The latest arrests took place on Friday February 10, when nine members of the Bangladesh Independent Garment Worker Union Federation (BIGUF), including senior leaders of the organisation, were arrested in in Chittagong, a port city hundreds of kilometres away from Ashulia. These arrests come on top of at least 24 arrests of trade union activists and workers in December and January, the filing of charges against hundred of “unknown” workers and the mass dismissals of over 1,500 workers. Factories supplying for major high street brands including H&M, Inditex (Zara/Bershka), VF (North Face) and Gap have been involved in both the filing of criminal charges and the arbitrary dismissals of hundreds of workers.

The arrests have been accompanied by a widespread crackdown on the legitimate organising work of the most active and independent trade union federations in the country. Police have vandalised and closed down union offices, and stolen equipment and union documents. Events organised by unions have been raided by the police, including events sponsored by the US government and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Key union leaders are publicly harassed in the press, and union activists continue to be intimidated by the security services. Where trade union offices remain open, heavy police surveillance renders them inaccessible to workers, at a time when advice and support to protect their rights is most needed.

Although the latest events represent a new low for the industry, Bangladesh unions have always had to operate within a long-standing atmosphere of anti-union repression. The International Labour Organisation has repeatedly condemned the failure of the Bangladesh government to implement laws that will bring Bangladesh in line with international standards, and the EU and US government have regularly called on Bangladesh to comply with its obligations under international human and labour rights conventions. So far these attempts at diplomatic pressure have failed to produce the required change, and stronger action is now required from the international community.  In light of this activists are calling on the EU to do more to demonstrate its commitment to a more sustainable industry by launching an immediate investigation into the failure of the Bangladesh government to deliver on the human rights commitments on which its trade access under the ‘Everything But Arms’ programme is based.

Sam Maher: “For too long the international community has sat at the sidelines ineffectively wringing its hands while workers continue to be exploited. The major brands and retailers and the European Union need to stop being complicit in this abuse and start taking meaningful action to make sure the Bangladesh government drops the charges against those that are still detained. And immediately stops the repression of legitimate union activity.”

Notes to the editor:

  • Clean Clothes Campaign has together with range of labour organisations protested the repression in two letters to brands and launched the #WagesNotJail petition calling upon brands to pressurise the factories where their clothes are made to drop the charges against the arrested labour leaders.
  • The petition by Clean Clothes Campaign, ILRF and WRC can be found here: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/brands-respect-basic-rights
  • The two brand letters can be found here (https://cleanclothes.org/news/2017/01/img/pdf/first-brand-letter-bangladesh-unrest/view) and here (https://cleanclothes.org/news/2017/01/img/pdf/second-brand-letter-key-brands-bangladesh-unrest/view).
  • A memo from the Workers Rights Consortium on significant misconceptions about the legal and factual basis for the recommendations of the CCC and other international NGOs regarding the repressive crackdown by the government of Bangladesh can be found here: https://cleanclothes.org/resources/background/wrc-misconceptions-regarding-mass-arrests-and-terminations-in-bangladesh/view
  • A background document on the wage struggle can be found here: https://cleanclothes.org/resources/background/background-wage-struggle-bangladesh-december-2016/view
  • On 16 February there will be a global day of action at Bangladesh embassies calling for a halt to the union repression.
  • The ILO reported on Bangladesh trade union violations in a “special paragraph” included in the 2016 Report of the Committee on the Application of Standards http://www.ilo.org/public/libdoc/ilo/P/09661/09661(2016-105-1A).pdf (p46)