Livia Firth’s docuseries, Fashionscapes, asks experts, activists and change-makers about some of the biggest problems in the fashion industry while also exploring the solutions. This episode premiered on April 24th 2021, on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza disaster. The collapse of the garment factory not only took the lives of more than 1,000 garment workers, but it also opened the world’s eyes to the atrocious human rights violations happening within the fashion industry. Livia interviewed experts to answer what’s a living wage and to address how poverty can be ended within the fashion industry.
We never ever found a living wage in garment producing countries. It was generally between 40-50% of what was needed for basically a decent life.Jessica Simor, Human Rights Lawyer, The Circle
What’s A Living Wage?
A living wage is the minimum wage needed by an individual or family to meet the local cost of living and to be able to afford typical expenses including housing, food, transportation, medical and education. It differs from minimum wage, (the lowest wage that is mandated by law) since it takes into account the cost of having a decent standard living. Sometimes minimum wage can still be or close to a poverty wage, where a worker is earning a wage that does not allow them to meet their basic needs.
There are calculators and tools that can be used to access the minimum and living wage in your area. For instance, in Philadelphia, PA for an individual without children, the poverty wage is $6.13, minimum $7.25 and living wage $14.47.
The Problem In The Fashion Industry
How can women free themselves from poverty, provide for their families, gain independence, or obtain an education for their children in an industry that treats them as slaves? ~ Fair Trade Certified
In 2019 the Clean Clothes Campaign published that garment workers in India and Bangladesh earned 2-5 times less than what the living wage in their area. In Ethiopia, the average wage for garment workers is $26 per month. In the U.S, the average wage for a garment worker in Los Angeles is estimated to be around $5.15 per hour. These are poverty wages. Not only are they too low for the garment workers to be able to afford the very clothes that they sew, but they barely allow them to afford the necessities they need to survive. And, that’s on top of working 60- 80 hours per week.
It’s estimated that 80% of garment workers are women. And, most of them have families. But, if they are struggling to afford food and shelter, many families make sacrifices such as forgoing medical care or education for young children in order to meet other necessities.
What We Can Do As Consumers
As consumers we have more power than we might think. Earlier this year, the CEO of Adidas admitted that it’s consumers who are driving sustainable changes. Whether we speak out on social media platforms or choose to spend our money on sustainable and ethical companies, brands are paying attention and sometimes that can lead to them changing their own trajectory or mission statements.
If you’re seeking to take an activist stance, you can also use hashtags to be a part of the conversation about different fair trade movements like #WhoMadeYourClothes. Or, if you’re not on social media platforms you can sign petitions for bills that protect and enforce labor and human rights. And, if you’re up for writing a letter, you can also write to your favorite brands sharing your concerns about living wage standards across their supply chain.
Read more about workers’ rights and living wages: