Living wage in the clothing industry: the steps you can take

Did you know that the makers of our clothing earn on average 45% less salary than they need to support themselves and their families? Although the problem is well known, the well-intentioned efforts and statements of brands, suppliers and their sub-suppliers have not done enough. Legislation at European level is necessary to ensure that the textile workers who ensure that we can look fashionable, will also receive a livable wage.

According to research by The Industry We Want, in many countries where the production of clothing is located, the minimum wage is on average 45% lower than necessary. This affects tens of millions of people worldwide. Too little income also leads to new problems, such as long working days, malnutrition and child labour.

The introduction of a living wage helps to raise the standard of living of workers and their families. A living wage is the minimum income for a 48-hour work week that a person needs to meet their basic needs and provide for their family. With a living wage they can pay for nutritious and healthy food, housing, clothing, medical costs, education for their children, transport, and ideally also have an opportunity to save. In addition, a living wage can be a catalyst to improve other working conditions. For example, the chance of child labor decreases if the parents in the family earn enough.

Lotte Jongstra

Lotte Jongstra

Sustainability Advisor, ASN Bank

“It is not for nothing that a living wage has been formally recognized as a human right.”

Supply chain needs to start taking responsibility

Low wages in the clothing industry are there due to competition. Countries and manufacturers want to remain attractive as production locations. Clothing brands that buy from factories control the economic strings, while the factories determine the wages of their employees. Clothing brands believe that they have little influence in the role of buyer; after all, they are not the only brand. In addition, they abide by the law. The consequence? A chain of parties that are all part of the problem and point the finger at each other.A chain of parties that are all part of the problem and point the finger at each other. The problem here is in the entire supply chain that works on our clothing. The clothing industry is highly competitive with many suppliers. For years, countless organizations and platforms have been committed to a living wage. However, this is going very slowly and the intrinsic motivation of clothing companies is a little too low. Some time ago, the European Commission published its bill on the chain responsibility of companies. I personally believe that the level of ambition lacks motivation, moreover, only applies to the large clothing companies. That is why specific European legislation is necessary to ensure that the people who make our clothes finally get what they deserve: a living wage.


Good clothes, fair pay: the steps you can take

In my opinion, the responsibility for a living wage lies primarily with clothing companies and less with the consumer. However, we can certainly take action.

  • First, we can buy clothing from companies who pay a living wage.
  • As European citizens, we can make our voices heard for a living wage in the production chains, through “Good clothes, fair pay”. This is a bill that requires clothing companies to ensure that their suppliers pay a living wage to their employees. “Good clothes, fair pay” is considered in the European Commission after 1 million signatures have been placed to support it.

Do you also want to help with the fight for a living wage? That can easily be done: give your online signature here to get the bill discussed in the European Commission. A small action with (hopefully) a big result!

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