LOGO WRC workers rights consortium 3g13The Workers Rights Consortium has just released a report comparing wages paid and living-wage in 15 major apparel-exporting countries. The report, entitled “Global Wage Trends for Apparel Workers, 2001–2011 – July 2013”, can be downloaded here.

SOME HIGHLIGHTS:

  • Vietnam’s apparel workers’ wages rose 40% between 2001 and 2011 (page 11).
  • This represents 29% of living wage (in 2001 it was 23%) (p.18).
  • And at this rate, it will take 37 years – that is, the year 2048 – for Viet apparel workers’ wages to pay for minimum living expenses.

CHALLENGING THE ARGUMENTS OF PRO-SWEATSHOP ADVOCATES

On pages 1-2, the report summarised arguments by pro-sweatshop advocates and provided counterpoints:

Critics of antisweatshop advocates often argue that..jobs in garment factories, no matter how low the wages or how difficult the conditions, benefit low-skilled workers because they provide better conditions and compensation than jobs in the informal and agricultural sectors of developing countries. Moreover, they posit, export-apparel manufacturing offers these workers..a “route out of poverty”..[S]elf-labeled “pro-sweatshop” pundits have not explained why the price that workers in developing countries have to pay for steady wage employment should be grueling working conditions, violations of local laws and basic human rights, and abusive treatment, except to say that there are always some workers for whom labor under any conditions will be an improvement over the status quo.

The [“route out of poverty”] argument, however, rests on either an extremely low benchmark for poverty or the promise that such work offers the future prospect of wages that actually do support a decent standard of living for workers and their families—that is, a “living wage.” .. Over the past decade, however, apparel manufacturing in most leading garment-exporting nations has delivered diminishing returns for its workers. .. garment workers still typically earn only a fraction of what constitutes a living wage—just as they did more than 10 years ago. ..”

METHODOLOGY

The methodology for estimating living wages is explained on pages 14-16. Essentially, WRC did a market-basket study for 1 country (Dominical Republic), then verified and calibrated its results against figures from the World Bank’s International Comparison Project. The World Bank figures were then calibrated to arrive at living wages estimates.

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