Steps Towards a Living Wage in Global Supply Chains

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What are the barriers to ensuring that a living wage is paid, and what are the root causes of low wages? Almost a century after the ILO constitution recognized the need for workers to earn a living wage, this Oxfam paper outlines the compelling reasons for responsible companies to act now to raise wages that are inadequate to meet the needs of workers and their families. The paper looks at the positive steps taken in a range of sectors, and provides a framework for deeper change. It highlights initiatives already underway and aims to help companies which source from developing countries to understand the issue and what success looks like from an Oxfam perspective. It includes recommendations, signposts further reading and suggests indicators of good practice.
  OXFAM ISSUE BRIEFING   DECEMBER 2014 STEPS TOWARDS A LIVING WAGE IN GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAINS Cambodian garment workers travelling to work in Phnom Penh, 97 percent of whom are women. They earn between $3 and $5 a day and many suffer from malnutrition 1 . 2014 has been a year of unrest and violence, with demands for anincrease in the minimum wage from $100 to $177 per month. Photo: Emma Hardy/Oxfam ‘Peace and harmony in the world requires an adequate living wage’.   International Labour Organization Constitution (1919)  Almost a century after the ILO Constitution recognized the need for workers to earn a living wage, the question of whether wages enable workers to meet their needs and those of their families has gained renewed momentum. Much has been written on the issue, but very little that assesses how companies are implementing it, and the outcomes. In this paper, we outline the root causes of low wages, the barriers to ensuring a living wage is paid and the compelling reasons for responsible companies to act now. We give credit for steps taken in a range of sectors, provide a framework for deeper change and signpost initiatives that are aligned with this. The aim is to help companies who source from developing countries understand and tackle the issue and see what success looks like from an Oxfam perspective.  2 THE ISSUE OF A LIVING WAGE Over the last 25 years, income from labour has made up a declining share of GDP across low-, middle- and high-income countries alike. 2    As Oxfam highlighted in its 2014 report ‘ Even It Up: Time to End Extreme Inequality  ’, this is a key driver of growing inequality which is harmful both for society and the economy. 3   A living wage 4  does more than keep people out of poverty. It allows them to participate in social and cultural life and afford a basic lifestyle considered acceptable by society at its current level of development. 5  It is a human right. 6  When a profitable company does not ensure a living wage is paid, it is pushing onto the most vulnerable people in its supply chain the negative impact of its business model. This is unfair and unsustainable. Oxfam research, campaigning and corporate engagement Research Poverty wages were a key finding from recent Oxfam studies conducted with companies: 7   ã  A study of labour standards in Unile ver’s Vietnam supply chain  found wages in its ownfactory exceeded the legal minimum and poverty line but some fell well short of a livingwage, and wages were just above the minimum in the suppliers studied. ã  A study with Ethical Tea Partnership concluded that wages of tea pluckers were below the poverty line in India and below the extreme poverty line in Malawi, despite meeting thelegal minimum and providing in-kind benefits. ã  A study with IPL in Kenya found job security increasing for skilled workers in flower pack- houses, but low wages and poor childcare were common. Oxfam calculated that wagescould be doubled if just 5p were added to the retail price of a £4 bunch of flowers andearmarked for wages, an increase of 1.25 percent.This is not just a problem in developing count ries. Oxfam’s report  Working Poor in America highlighted that the US federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour was well below the poverty line for a full-time worker and has not increased for more than 7 years. It argued for an increase to $10.10 for five reasons: it is what the overwhelming majority of Americans want, it would benefit 25 million workers (and 15 million children in their families), it would fuel economic growth, it would save taxpayers '  money spent on social-welfare programmes, andit is long overdue. In a poll, even a majority of small business owners were in favour. 8   Campaigning Oxfam’s  Behind the Brands campaign has rated and ranked the top 10 global food and drink companies on their supply chain policies against a transparent scorecard of indicators 9  and used public mobili z ation involving 700,000 people to help drive a race to the top. Thecampaign has called out companies with poor scores, then given public credit to meaningful commitments, for instance by Mars, Mondelez and Nestl é  to increase  women’sempowerment  in the cocoa industry and Coca Cola's leadership on land rights. The indicators include whether the company has an explicit commitment to a living wage, whether it engages with the trade union IUF, and whether it advocates protection of human rights by governments. Corporate engagement Oxfam also acts as a ‘critical friend’ to companies open to change. For instance, it has continued to engage with Unilever, Ethical Tea Partnership and IPL as they implement the commitments made to improve supply chain standards based on the studies with Oxfam.  3 LIVING WAGE AND THE UN GUIDING PRINCIPLES ‘  Business needs to demonstrate it contributes to the common good. The living wage is one of the most powerful tools for business to contribute to their workers’ human rights . ’    Phil Bloomer, Executive Director, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre. 10 The  UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights   set out companies’ responsibility to respect human rights, including in their business relationships in the supply chain. They must identify adverse human rights impacts and address them, even if they have not contributed to those impacts. Adverse impacts clearly include forced and child labour, such as that found in cotton, seafood and palm oil. 11  But they also include the millions of ‘low road’ jobs –  many of them legal  –  in which workers cannot work their way out of poverty, however hard they try. 12  Job insecurity is as much part of the problem as low wages 13   and women are on a ‘lower road’ than men. 14   It is part of due diligence that sourcing companies assess the number of workers on ‘low road’ jobs in their supply chain and set them on a rising path.   WORK SPECTRUM UNSUSTAINABLE SUSTAINABLE ILLEGAL ROAD Does harm LOW ROAD In-work poverty MEDIUM ROAD Does some good HIGH ROAD Does good Forced labour, denying workers their human rights and freedom and children their education. Subsistence only. Work on legal-but-low wages, excessive hours, often insecure. No worker voice. Wages above legal minima, secure contracts. Workers’ committee. Secure work on a living wage, based on a collective bargaining agreement. 15  E.g. Trafficked slave labour in the Thai seafood industry. Photo: Environmental Justice Foundation E.g. Unrest and poor nutrition in Cambodia garments. Photo: Heather Stilwell/ Clean Clothes Campaign E.g. Slowly improving work in a Kenyan flower packhouse. Photo: Oxfam E.g. Wellbeing at a living wage employer in the Dominican Republic. Photo: The negative impact of a poverty wage:  A third of garment workers in Cambodia are malnourished, based on a 2013 study, 16  and there were more than 2,000 cases of fainting in 2012. 17  The unrest in the industry in 2014 has brought supply chain disruption and reputational risk to the industry and international brands alike. The positive impact of a living wage: ‘I can now access nutritious food and I never have to worry that I can’t fe ed my family. I have been able to send my daughter to university and keep my son in high school  –  this was always my dream.’ 18   Maritza Vargas, president of the Alta Gracia Union, Dominican Republic  4 WHAT IS DRIVING LOW WAGES? In Oxfam’s analysis, there are three key drivers of low wages in global supply chains: 1.Unfair share of value in the chain Business models push cost and risk down the supply chain to maximise profit for shareholders. There is a disconnect between corporate responsibility programmes and sourcing strategies. Wages of garment workers have fallen in real terms, but prices paid have not increased. A survey by Fair Wage Network 19  found workers commonly rely on overtime, yet 68 percent of Asian garment suppliers reported difficulty paying overtime premiums. Executive pay, though, continues to rise. Every CEO in the  UK’s top companies  takes home £4.25 million a year on average, nearly double their income in 2002. This is 131 times as much as their average employee 20  and around 2,000 times as much as a typical garment worker in Bangladesh. 21   2.Absence of collective bargaining  A major barrier to higher wages is the absence of collective bargaining. Trade unions are a vital countervailing force to capital that helps ensure prosperity is shared. Yet companies often treat trade unions as adversaries rather than as partners. Women make up a large part of the workforce in global supply chains, but most are unaware of their rights and have little or no voice in the workplace. They also carry a much greater  care burden that restricts their ability to organise. ‘In the beginning, the employers did not understand the law on unionisation. They did not allow us to talk to workers. The struggle for workers’ rights gave me the push to become a union leader.’    Rebbecca Adong, flower worker in Uganda and National Treasurer of UHISPAWU union. Source:  Women Working Worldwide .  Denmark has no minimum-wage law, but $20 an hour is the lowest the fast-food industry can pay under a collective bargaining agreement between 3F union and an employers '  group which includes Burger King and McDonald’s. In the United States fast -food workers, serving the same companies’ products but unable to bargain collectively, earn an average of just $8.90. 22  
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