Only 0,6% of your shirt goes to the tailor

Jonne – co-founder of Go Frank – dreams of a fair world for all. But her dreams are rudely awakened by today’s fashion industry. In this series of articles, she will explain in depth about their crimes, and about the possible antidotes. This second post talks about living wages in the fashion industry – or the lack thereof.

Imagine that you work about 10 hours a day, six days per week. At the end of the day you hardly have enough money to buy food for your family. This is the harsh reality for many garment workers. Despite of their hard work, they have to skip meals to cope, live in tiny apartments or dorms and have to think thrice before going to a doctor when they need medical help.  

Sometimes I think of this when I look at my wardrobe full of clothes. Many people have worked on them, in the effort to make a living. But probably in many cases they did not earn enough to make a good living, send their kids to school or to go on vacation.

Earning less than the minimum
Most of our clothes are produced in low wage countries. Therefore it is easy to assume that when workers are paid far less than what we are used to, it fits their local economy. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case.

To show this I have to get a little technical. There are ways to calculate a living wage. This is the wage that people should earn, within normal hours, to make a decent living and take care of their family. The best known example of such a calculation is done by The Asian Floor Wage.

Many studies show that minimum wages in production countries are often far below the living wage. In India for example, the minimum wage covers only 26 percent of a living wage. Other studies have shown that many workers do not even receive the minimum wage and are forced to work unpaid overtime.

Source: Clean Clothes Campaign, 2013

Low wages are not only the case in Asia. In Eastern Europe workers earn far less than a living wage (the percentages are comparable to those in Asia), and workers are regularly being paid less than the official minimum too.

Only 0,6% of the retail price
So, why do workers earn so little money while making our clothes? It is often said that people don’t want to spend much on their new outfits. However, the Clean Clothes Campaign calculated that only 0,6 percent of the price of a shirt actually goes into the labour part. So for a shirt of 30 euros, this comes down to 18 cents. Increasing this percentage would not make that shirt that much more expensive, and could change many lives.

Race to the bottom
One part in the issue of low wages, is the so-called race to the bottom. Brands and buyers are looking for the best deal they can get. Production has to be fast, the quality should match the expectations and of course, it has to be cheap. Hence, factories in low wage countries use their low production costs as an advantage to compete. Competition is harsh, because they do not only have their neighbours to rival with. There are factories everywhere in the world. New cheap production hubs pop up all the time, which offer their services for even less. The workers are the ones to pay.

Brands, take up your responsibility!
So how to stop this? To us, it’s a simple matter of taking responsibility. Fashion brands should realise it is their duty to make sure the workers producing their clothes can make a decent living. By quitting the race to the bottom. Skip the middlemen and work together towards a living wage throughout the industry.

Luckily there are brands that live up to this call already. For example Studio Jux and Afriek, who both own their own factory. This way they take personal responsibility for the workers, including their wages.

Another good example is People Tree, a front runner when it comes to fair trade in the fashion industry. Want to know more about fair trade and how it benefits workers? Check our blog on fair trade here.

These initiatives show that brands are able to pay fair wage, and lead by example. So thankfully, we can end this article in hopeful spirits! Want to know more? Reach Jonne at jonne@gofrank.me.