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Living wage vs. Minimum wage


If we break a wage down to its core, it’s ideally enough to afford the costs of living and a little bit extra to enjoy the pleasures of life, comfortably. This varies when we take location into consideration, and large brands such as Shein and H&M have figured this out, taking advantage of workers in developing countries.


What is a minimum wage?

Minimum wage in the garment industry is set so low that factory owners in developing and third-world countries are essentially enslaving workers while profiting from the payments made by the big fast fashion corporations. The pay isn't enough to uphold a normal living standard for a garment worker, even while working 12-13 hours per day, six to seven days a week in some of the most appalling conditions imaginable. 


What is a living wage?

A living wage is calculated from the needs of the average worker and the amount that's required to cover their basic human needs (food, rent, bills, healthcare and education). The majority of garment workers are usually paid about 20-50% of the amount needed. 


What’s really happening?

Forced overtime, abuse and much more. Often forced overtime isn't even paid, and the threat of losing a job or even physical violence toward female workers (who do not have the same rights as men in some of these locations), and nobody to turn to for justice. 


So how does this apply to fashion?

If garment workers were to be paid a living wage, the final price increase for a product is only about 1-3% on average, according to studies conducted by Oxfam and the Clean Clothes Foundation. A Vogue poll states that Gen-Z is more likely to spend the extra cash when they know a product is sustainable - up to 50% more in most cases. 


Who is accountable?

Brands should make it their business to know what a factory is paying their workers and ensure it’s fair by calculating a living wage, conducting surveys and speaking with garment workers. Locally, brands could build deeper connections with communities and be a welcome addition to the economy. 

Unfortunately, many brands often lay blame on the factories for paying minimum wage, not making themselves liable for the issues. In reality, it’s the brands who chose the factories based on the lowest bidder (who can do the work the cheapest). If brands were to change in this mindset then factory owners would also adapt


What can you do?

There is something you can do to make a change: protest with you wallet.

By shopping with small, sustainable businesses with ethical and moral values at heart you can dictate where the fashion industry is headed. 


Get to know the brands you love and #WearYourValues to make a change. 


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