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Garment workers among the lowest-paid industrial workers globally

By Don-Alvin Adegeest


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Garment workers in Bangladesh protest for minimum wage Credits: Sommilito Garments Sramik Federation (SGSF)

A decade after global fashion brands committed to raising garment workers' wages to a living wage, progress remains slow. In Bangladesh, where around 600,000 people work for H&M, workers earned an average of 119 dollars per month in the first half of 2023, below the 194 dollars living-wage benchmark, reported the Wall Street Journal.

Advocates urge the establishment of higher wage levels for supplier factories, emphasizing the need for a clear implementation schedule. Western brands, like H&M and Inditex, stress the importance of collective bargaining agreements, but independent unions are restricted in many sourcing markets.

Fast fashion's low wages persist due to cost pressures

To keep retail prices competitive and maintain profit margins, fashion brands often place significant pressure on their suppliers to minimize production costs. This frequently leads to the suppression of wages for garment workers, who are among the lowest-paid industrial workers globally. The emphasis on cost-cutting and maintaining affordability creates a challenging environment for suppliers to pay higher wages, contributing to the ongoing issue of low wages in the fast fashion sector.

Recent protests in Bangladesh led to a government-mandated minimum wage increase to around 113 dollars, up from 75 dollars, but is considered by many to be inadequate. Some companies, including Puma and Patagonia, acknowledge not paying a living wage in some factories, highlighting the industry's complexity, reported the WSJ. Despite H&M's efforts, the impact on wages remains modest, prompting calls for more comprehensive and collaborative approaches for sustainable change.

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