In Work But Trapped in Poverty: A summary of five studies conducted by Oxfam, with updates on progress along the road to a living wage

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Oxfam believes that access to decent work on a living wage is a fundamental pathway out of poverty, and one of the best ways to counter growing inequality. This summary of recent Oxfam research in Morocco, Kenya, Malawi, Vietnam and Myanmar paints a picture of workers, mostly women, who are working hard but trapped in poverty producing food and garments for consumers. Four of the five studies were conducted with companies who source or sell the products. The paper outlines the findings, gives a progress update and looks at what needs to change for workers like these to enjoy decent work on a living wage in the future.
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  www.oxfam.org  IN WORK BUT TRAPPED IN POVERTY  A summary of five studies conducted by Oxfam, with updates on progress along the road to a living wage STRAWBERRY PICKING IN MOROCCO TEA PLUCKING IN MALAWI FLOWER PROCESSING IN KENYA PRODUCT MANUFACTURING IN VIETNAM GARMENT STITCHING IN MYANMAR Rachel Wilshaw, Sloane Hamilton, Julie Théroux-Séguin and Daisy Gardener  2 Oxfam believes that access to decent work on a living wage is a fundamental pathway out of poverty, and one of the best ways to counter growing inequality. This summary of recent Oxfam research paints a picture of workers, mostly women, who are working hard but trapped in poverty producing food and garments for consumers. Four of the five studies were conducted with companies who source or sell the products. The paper outlines the findings, gives a progress update and looks at what needs to change for workers like these to enjoy decent work on a living wage in the future. CONTENTS Foreword ...................................................................................................................... 3 Improving working conditions for strawberry pickers in Morocco .................................. 5 Understanding wage issues in the tea industry ............................................................ 9 Cut flowers and green beans from Kenya: a poverty footprint study ........................... 13 Labour rights in Unilever‟s supply chain with a case study in Vietnam........................ 15 Conditions for garment workers in Myanmar .............................................................. 18 What needs to change? ............................................................................................. 21 Key recommendations ............................................................................................ 22 Sources and further reading ....................................................................................... 23 Notes ......................................................................................................................... 24   3 FOREWORD Mark Goldring, Executive Director, Oxfam GB In January 2014, Oxfam‟s „ Working for the Few ‟  report 1  revealed the staggering statistic that 85 people now have the same wealth as half the world‟s population. That report received massive attention, reinforcing as it did the explosive findings in Thomas Piketty‟s book 2    –  that extreme economic inequality is damaging the fabric of society and the health of the economy. Twelve months later Oxfam was back, highlighting that just 1 percent of the world‟s population owns 99 percent of its wealth. The issue of growing inequality is a major concern for policy makers, civil society and business leaders alike, as Oxfam‟s report  Even It Up: Time to end extreme inequality   demonstrates. 3  Oxfam believes that access to decent work and a living wage is a fundamental pathway out of poverty, and one of the best ways to counter growing inequality. Yet since 1990, working people (in developed and developing countries alike) have received a smaller and smaller slice of the economic pie, while those who own capital have received a bigger and often unearned slice. The median income of a UK supermarket chief executive more than quadrupled (from £1m to £4.2m) between 1999 and 2010. Top executives in the FTSE 100 now take home 130 times as much as their average employee. Yet almost a century after the International Labour Organization (ILO) Constitution stated that „Peace and harmony in the world requires an adequate living wage‟ , only 24 of these companies have committed to pay their own employees a Living Wage 4  and none has made a serious commitment to ensure a living wage is paid in their supply chain. This summary of five recent Oxfam studies into employment conditions, four of which were conducted with multinational and local companies, shows the reality of in-work poverty in profitable supply chains. No matter how hard many people work, they cannot work their way to a better life and have little or no representation in the workplace. Women predominate in many of these „low road‟ jobs. They also carry another burden, since rural women report that they typically do 5.9 hours of unpaid care work a day, compared with the 1.1 hours than men typically do. 5  What they need from productive employment is a secure contract on a living wage, with predictable, manageable hours and good, affordable childcare. What they get, as Oxfam‟s studies show, is the opposite. In Morocco, in 2009, Oxfam found 6  that female strawberry pickers were facing numerous violations of their rights, including harassment by „labour providers‟, dangerous transport and below-minimum wages. We joined up with UK supermarkets to do something about it.  An Oxfam poverty footprint study with IPL in Kenya  in 2013 7  found that low wages were the biggest issue facing workers in the cut flower and green beans sectors. Other findings included the insecure income for smallholder farmers, and poor childcare.  A  study with the Ethical Tea Partnership in 2013 8  concluded that in Assam, India, tea pluckers‟ wages left them below the World Bank poverty line of $2 a day, while in Malawi, they were below the extreme poverty line of $1.25 a day. This was despite wage levels meeting the legal minimum, and „in - kind benefits‟ being provided.   A  study of labour standards in Unilever’s Vietnam supply chain 9  found that wages in the company‟s own factory were well above the minimum wage but below a living wa ge  4 and grievance mechanisms were not trusted. In the supply chain, low wages and insecure work were found in two of three suppliers studied, with the third being an example of good practice. In an Oxfam survey of garment workers in Myanmar (Burma) 10  workers expressed concern about low wages, long hours and safety issues. Even with overtime, most said they cannot afford housing, food and medicine with the income they earn at the factories. Fifteen years of corporate codes have only made a dent in these serious issues. Audit- based compliance has had its day. It‟s time for a new approach that recognizes the systemic nature of serious violations of people‟s rights at work. The  United Nations’ Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights  11   set out companies‟ responsibility to respect human rights, including in their business relationships in the supply chain. Companies must identify the root causes of „adverse impacts‟ on human rights and use their influence to address them. In-work poverty is a very tangible form of such adverse impact. In its  Behind the Brands campaign , 12  Oxfam has assessed the approach taken by the top 10 global food and beverage companies to the management of their supply chain. It rates and ranks on their policies for agricultural workers, smallholder farmers and women, how they manage global issues such as land rights, climate change and water and how transparent they are. In relation to workers, all the companies have much to do. For example, not even the highest-scoring companies on the scorecard have made a commitment to a living wage in their supply chains. Some companies have taken steps to tackle low wages, as highlighted in this report and in Oxfam‟s briefing paper,  Steps Towards a Living Wage in Global Supply Chains  . 13  But these efforts have had little impact on in-work poverty. More systemic change is needed, of the kind that is happening in Ecuador, where the minimum wage has been raised up to a living wage; 14  in the garment sector, where a group of brands have opted to work with the global union IndustriALL; 15  and in Malawi, where a coalition has committed to achieve a living wage for tea pluckers by 2020. 16  These initiatives hold out hope of the deeper change Oxfam is looking for. Decent work can be one of the principal solutions to growing inequality, if „low road‟ jobs can be systematically raised up to a higher level. With active support from governments, companies and consumers, we need to create a world where working in a profitable value chain becomes a genuine route out of poverty, while enabling people to spend time with their families. Secure jobs on a living wage must become the norm, not the exception.
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