by | Nov 16, 2017 | Blog, Living wage
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.
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by | Mar 1, 2017 | Blog, News, reports, Resources - Shoes, Shoes
Report: No Excuses for Homework
Working conditions in the Indonesian leather and footwear sector.
Indonesia is the fourth largest footwear manufacturer worldwide after China, India, and Vietnam, producing one billion pairs of shoes in 2015 which equals a world share of 4.4 %. It is hence worth taking a look at Indonesia to learn more about the social and ecological footprint of leather shoes worn in Europe. But despite some initial achievements and the existence of considerable legislation, working conditions in the Indonesian leather and footwear sector leave much to be desired. This is the result of report published today by SÜDWIND and INKOTA.
Download the report here >>
Download the factsheet here >>
Published March 2017.
by | Dec 7, 2016 | Blog, Shoes
The right to dream: homeworkers in the UK and India
Guest blog by Rachel McCarthy
Wednesday, 5:30am. Rose wakes up and makes breakfast for her two young children. Rushing out the door, she walks an hour to work in the rain as she can’t afford the bus fare. And there she sits crouching at the bench, sewing seams for garments at 6p an hour. The men at the factory earn 8p and upwards. After ten hours work, her fingers ache and her head throbs from the noise of the machines. At home after cooking tea, ironing, and seeing her daughters to bed, she finally hits the pillow at 11:30pm, exhausted by the drudgery of the day.
Rose lived in inner city London in the 1970s. Her story is emblematic of women’s lives across the UK. The Equal Pay Act was introduced in 1970, with the intention of women and men to be paid equal wages. In reality, though, women endured more years of discrimination and inequality.
Female factory workers in the 1970s
I visited the exhibition Women and Work at the Tate Modern, which uncovered the lives of these invisible women in our country. I was struck by the account of Jean, a factory worker who smuggled bread into her stockings. Jean felt hungry and couldn’t wait until lunch to eat, so she took a bite- but she was caught and fired on the spot. Mary, another woman at the same factory, was found in tears because her weekly wages were docked for no reason, meaning she wouldn’t have enough money to pay her rent. With the help of the union representative, it turned out this was a ‘mistake’ which was corrected.
It’s shocking to think just two generations ago, women in this county- maybe your mother or grandmother- were trampled on in like this every day. Would you put up with it?
The demand for cheap labour didn’t stop there, and it was women who paid the price. Factory owners reacted quickly to the Equal Pay Act, downgrading people’s jobs and forcing women to work from their homes.
Homeworkers (Margaret Harrison, 1977) testifies to the real lives of women in the UK who were paid poverty wages for brands like Debenhams and Dorothy Perkins.
Ordinary women, desperate for work, had no choice but to work at home without legal rights or protection. They became invisible. Their hands were swollen and painful but they couldn’t afford to take time off sick. They got into debt when companies didn’t pay them their wages. They knew they were being exploited, but all the while they kept working and fighting for their children to have a better life.
Today, 40 years later, it is women in Asia who are the homeworkers. The effect of globalisation means that the world’s poorest and most disadvantaged women are now fighting this battle. Supply chains have changed dramatically, but the back-breaking exploitation and discrimination of working women remains. In fact, it’s become much worse.
In Ambur, a dry, dusty town in south India, many Dalit and Muslim women earn a living by stitching uppers on shoes. In the report Stitching Our Shoes- Homeworkers in South India, we found women are paid around 6 rupees a piece. This is about 96 rupees (£1) a day- well below the poverty line. These shoes are sold for between £40 and £100 on our high streets.
Women living in poverty have no choice but to take this work. “Today we may earn 50 rupees but there is no guarantee that we will have an income tomorrow,” says Sumitra, an Indian homeworker. “Those who work in the company have some guarantee for work but we don’t. If we fall sick and cannot work, then the day’s income is lost.”
A female homeworker stiches shoes in south India
Women sit, bent over on the floor for hours on end, repeatedly stitching the thread through the tough leather upper and pulling the needle to the right tension. Runa describes how the “numbness of the hands” means the homeworker “can’t even do the household everyday washing and can’t carry things quickly. So due to all the hand work, she is suffering.”
Workers are provided with the thread to stich the uppers, but they have to buy their own needles, trapping them into a cycle of debt. They suffer from pain in their back, neck and shoulders, and often have problems with their eyesight and chronic headaches.
It’s hard to understand how workers endure these inhumane conditions, day in, day out. But these women are under the thumb of powerful companies and intermediaries, who ruthlessly exploit their cheap labour. “We have nothing,” says Shanti. “That’s why we know this is employer exploitation. We have no other way. That’s why we are involved in this [work]. If I have any other income, definitely I wouldn’t do this.”
A workers’ rights protest in Bangladesh
But these women are not powerless. There are signs that they are beginning to fight back. In the villages surrounding Ambur, small groups of women have started to associate and advocate for better pay. It’s early days, and there is resistance from the powerful intermediaries and some of the workers who are afraid to put themselves forward. We can show our solidarity by demanding that retailers recognise homeworkers in their supply chains. I know there is hope that these women will fight for the rights and dignity they deserve.
I am struck by how the lives of these ordinary women from London and India- Rose, Jean and Mary; Sumitra, Runa and Shanti; are threaded together by shared experiences. Drudgery. Monotony. Broken dreams. But they believe they are better than this. Joining together is a surely the way they can protect and keep themselves strong.
Long Hours Versus Efficiency by Miss Cave for the Industrial Sectional Committee in the Women’s Industrial News, 1914.
Women and Work: A Document on the Division of Labour in Industry by Margaret Harrison, Kay Hunt, Mary Kelly 1973-75, an exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Homeworkers by Margaret Harrison 1977, an exhibition at the Tate Modern.
Stitching Our Shoes- Homeworkers in South India a joint report by Homeworkers Worldwide, Labour Behind the Label and Cividep, March 2016.
Bread and Roses by James Oppenheim, 1911.
by | Apr 7, 2016 | Press release
For immediate release
Labour Behind the Label
7th April 2016
EU citizens demand transparent and fair production of shoes and leather
A delegation of the Change Your Shoes consortium brought the campaign’s demands to the European Parliament
15 MEPs from different members states and political groups attended the Change Your Shoes meeting in Brussels. They were presented with the European citizens requirements: we want more transparency in the supply chains of shoe and leather industries, strict criteria for incoming goods and better information provided by labels on our shoes. These demands result from 12 open debates, the People’s Meetings, which took place in 12 European member states including London, England, as well as from the Virtual March to Brussels supported by 16.000 European citizens.
Change Your Shoes raises awareness among citizens, brands and policy makers about the need to address the human and labour rights abuses in shoe and leather supply chains: low wages, excessive overtime, unsafe work environment and lack of true freedom of association is the everyday experience for thousands of workers producing our shoes. 24 billion pairs of shoes were produced worldwide in 2014. 88% of all this production comes from Asia.
At these 12 open People’s Meetings 767 participants, including experts, policy makers, trade unioninsts and accademics discussed and developed proposals on how EU trade and development policy can be improved to better protect labour and human rights of those who work on goods for European market. A summary of the 12 People’s Meeting report was handed out to the MEPs and its key areas demands were presented:
- We need more transparency in the shoe supply chain: as people become aware of the low standards of working conditions in the shoe and garment industries arround the globe they come to realise there is not much we know about any specific t-shirt or pair of boots we are buying. It should be mandatory for EU based brands to publish their supply chains so that they could all be readily linked to conditions in specific factories. An EU-controlled label should mark that minimum social requirements are being met.
- We demand control of goods entering the EU: goods that enter the EU should be made with respect to human rights and and with fair working conditions. Social barriers should be set to goods trespassing the EU borders as a tool for improving conditions were they are made and trade agreements should reflect that.
“We want the EU to introduce legislation to regulate the industry, protect workers and inform consumers in an easy and accessible way about the conditions under which their shoes were produced and the toxic content they may have”, states Ilana Winterstein, UK coordinator of the campaign Change Your Shoes.
This demand for more transparency was supported by 16,000 citizens through a mobile application that counted their steps and added them in a Virtual March to Brussels. Together they collected over 63 million steps, although only 59 million were required to reach Brussels from 28 member state capital cities.
Eci Ernawati, from the Trade Union Rights Center in Indonesia, also partner of the Change Your Shoes’ Consortium, explained to the MEPs the specific conditions of labour rights in her country where there is a lack of enforcement of labour law leaving workers without effective protection. Wanti, an Indonesian homeworker, brought her testimony of the conditions of her work. When she can work 10 hours a day she is paid about 800,000 rupia a month; the equivalent to approximately £43. According to Asia Floor Wage Alliance, the living wage in Indonesia is around £243, which means workers like Wanti remain trapped in a poverty cycle despite her long working hours.
Homeworkers in Indonesia, as well as in other Asian contries, have no contract, no health insurance and no security of employment. Acording to Indonesian local governments, homeworkers are not even officially workers and have no right to join a union.
“European brands should be aware of homeworkers conditions and take steps to protect their rights. Homeworkers are not always aware of those rights and have no bargaining power whatsoever in front of the factories they work for from home. They cannot protest because they would be easily replaced, but they need the money for their households” states Eci Ernawati, from the Trade Union Rights Center.
MEPs that attended the meeting were moved and engaged in a fruitful dialogue with the consortium representatives about how they could promote better working conditions in shoe producer countries from the EU.
by | Mar 15, 2016 | Campaigns, Resources, Resources - Shoes, Shoes
Download our fact sheet about homeworkers in the Indian leather shoe industry here: Homeworkers fact sheet