Action Update: Volume 29

Action Update: Volume 29

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

This issue gives you an overview of our latest campaigns to hold the garment industry to account. There is information on our sweatshop-free school uniforms campaign, calling on Trutex to operate with more transparency, a look at fast fashion giant Boohoo and poverty pay, and an update on the situation in Bangladesh and the violent repression of garment workers who protested peacefully for higher wages. There is also an update on some of our urgent appeals work, including campaigning for workers who produced for Burberry and Uniqlo to be paid the wages they are owed. 

Read it here: Action Update: Volume 29

Action Update: Number 28

Action Update: Number 28

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

In this issue you will find information on Bangladeshi garment workers’ ongoing struggle for fair pay in the face of violent government repression, as well as an update on the future of the Accord and our concerns over worker safety. We share our findings on the dismal state of pay in the global garment industry with the launch of our new report: Tailored Wages UK 2019, and update you on our campaign for H&M to keep its promise and pay garment workers a living wage. This issue also takes a look at fast fashion and the environmental crisis, and contains information on how you can get involved with our campaigns and join our activist army.

Read it here: Action Update: Number 28

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

Report: Let’s Clean Up Fashion

Report: Let’s Clean Up Fashion

Report: Let’s clean up fashion

The state of pay behind the UK high street.

“My concern is not that there are too many sweatshops, but that there are too few,” says economist Jeffrey Sachs. In a sense he, he has a point. The fashion industry has the potential to lift millions of people in low-income countries out of poverty, and working conditions are not going to improve overnight. But it shouldn’t hurt this much.

The global garment workforce in 2006 is tired, underpaid and unable to benefit from globalisation. Earlier this year in Bangladesh, where garment sector wages have fallen in real terms by half in the past ten years, workers finally snapped, protesting, rioting, striking, and even setting light to factories to express their desperation at wages as low as £7 per month. The number of legal challenges and protests by Chinese workers is also on the up.

What do you think is a fair wage for the people who sew your clothes? Imagine you were a worker – what would you consider decent? The right of workers to earn a living wage is enshrined in the codes of conduct that most UK fashion companies have pledged to implement throughout their supply chains, yet as the evidence on the ground shows – and as many companies admitted to us in the research for this report – few garment workers actually earn enough to make ends meet and have a decent quality of life.

Download the report here >>

Download the 2007 update report here >>

Download the 2008 update report here >>

Download the 2009 update report here >>

Download the 2011 update report here >>

Published 2006.

Blog: Buying ethically?

Blog: Buying ethically?

Behind the glamour of London Fashion Week and the aspirational images in glossy magazines is the reality of the global fashion industry: a grim picture of women living in abject poverty, struggling to survive whilst making the clothes sold on UK high streets for major fashion brands.

As consumers, many of us try to counteract this image by choosing to buy ethically. In the face of sweatshop labour headlines we may opt for the brand that seemingly has an ethical stance, hoping our money will reflect our morals. However, how can we be sure that this is the case? A lack of transparency throughout the garment and shoe industries mean that making ethical choices is not as simple as it may seem.

High street brands such as Marks & Spencer (M&S) and H&M proudly put their ethical credentials front and centre, with marketing for both brands focusing on good practice including eco collections, clothes recycling, sustainable sourcing and workers rights. Both brands have won plaudits for their ethics, with M&S receiving over 100 awards since launching Plan A, including being named ‘Most Ethical High Street Clothing Retailer’ by Ethical Consumer Magazine in 2014, winning consumer trust and increased sales.

Crucially, as poverty remains a key factor in maintaining the cycle of sweatshop labour, both brands have publicly declared a commitment to ensuring a living wage is possible for garment workers in their supply chains. In 2010, M&S launched their Plan A sustainability programme – pledging to ensure suppliers in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh were able to pay workers ‘a fair living wage’ by 2015. H&M is working towards paying 850,000 garment workers a fair living wage by 2018.

Yet are these ethics being played out on the factory floor? Do the workers actually making their clothes feel the effects of commitments to a living wage? We interviewed 150 M&S workers from eight supplier factories in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and India, and over 50 workers from six H&M supplier factories in Cambodia to see whether the significant wage increase promised was being paid.

Our findings, in our new report ‘Do We Buy It?’, show that far from a living wage these workers are living in abject poverty, sharing slum housing in 3×3 meter shacks, with 2-3 other workers. Many have no running water and share outside toilets with up to 15 people. These women work 10 – 12 hours a day, 6 days a week and yet still don’t earn enough to afford the basics such as nutritious food or an education for their children.

Salaheya Khatun, a worker for a Bangladeshi M&S supplier says: “I am in debt by around 1000 taka every month because I need to pay for groceries and supplies on credit. It is difficult because if I had cash I could negotiate on the price, but I cannot negotiate when paying credit. Buying on credit feels like a disgrace…I just want to be able to support my family.”

Salaheya is not alone. In fact, we found that 60% of all M&S workers interviewed were living in mounting debt just to meet their basic needs. In Sri Lanka, M&S workers were earning on average £3.23 for a 10 hour day. Illegal levels of overtime were common, with women working up to 110 hours per month over their contracted hours, and still remaining in debt. One worker from India stated: “Our income is not enough. We don’t buy eggs, meat, fish or fruits because of high costs”

This is not the tagline to M&S’s award-winning Plan A sustainability roadmap.

So, what can we do to challenge the notion that brands can so wholly control their image through corporate social responsibility rhetoric?

We can demand transparency

M&S stated in the 2014 Plan A report that the commitment on supply chain living wage had been ‘achieved’, but they give no evidence to back this up. M&S use an internal process to evaluate their position, with no data or costs available. This lack of transparency, present throughout the garment and shoes industries, makes checking on the facts behind the statements virtually impossible. Similarly, H&M have not published a benchmark for the ‘fair living wage’ that they are aiming for is. Without this figure it is difficult to measure their success.

For consumers to truly be able to choose to shop ethically, we need to know that the human rights of the workers making the products are being upheld. We need to know by having access to data that proves it, not by simply being asked to believe brands who profit in the millions from the labour of the young, poor, migrant and uneducated women they exploit.

Brands need to publicly declare their benchmark for a living wage and share their factory supplier lists, their audit reports, and other important data such as wages paid per supplier by grade. We need to hold brands accountable to their promises. Only once they supply this information can their ethical marketing be taken as anything more than CSR spin.

By Ilana Winterstein

February 2016