October 7, 2009
On October 7, workers' rights groups in over a dozen countries throughout Asia, Europe and the Americas are participating in the public launch of the Asia Floor Wage Campaign (AFWC). The campaign is demanding a common minimum living wage for garment workers across the Asian region, in order to stop the destructive race to the bottom on wages and labour standards - which is fueled in part by companies moving production between countries in the region in search of ever-cheaper labour costs.
To this end the AFWC has calculated a minimum living wage (Asia Floor Wage) for the region as a whole, which has been standardized so that it can be easily converted to national currencies in key Asian garment-producing countries (including India, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, China and Hong Kong).
What is the Asia Floor Wage
According to the AFWC, the Asia Floor Wage (AFW) is based on "the income required for a single earner to support a family of four (2 adults and 2 children) by working a legal maximum working week (but no longer than 48 hours), excluding any payment for overtime or other bonuses/allowances." It should provide enough income to pay for food and other essential living costs such as healthcare, housing, clothing, childcare, transportation, fuel, education, etc.
The AFW is expressed as a single figure that can be converted to local currencies using the World Bank's 'purchasing power parity' (PPP) formula so that the floor wage would allow workers to purchase the same amount of goods and services in each garment-producing country in Asia. The Asia Floor Wage for 2009 has been set at 475 PPP$.
The need for a Living Wage
The garment industry's history of low wages, excessive overtime and poor working conditions is well known. Though small improvements have been made in some areas, on the issue of wages the apparel industry has continually failed to act -- arguing at times that it is enough to abide by local minimum wage laws and other times using the excuse that there is no commonly-accepted living wage figure for them to meet.
The fact is that legal national minimum wages set for workers in the apparel industry fail to provide enough income for workers to maintain their families above national poverty levels. Poverty wages push many workers into debt, lead to malnutrition, cause health problems, and make workers and their families extremely vulnerable should they face sudden unemployment, health problems or disabilities.
The Asia Floor Wage Campaign challenges the second industry excuse, by calculating a measurable floor wage throughout Asia - one that has buy-in from workers' organizations across the region and which can easily be met without significantly reducing industry profits.
About the Asia Floor Wage Campaign
At an international level, the Campaign will pressure apparel brands and major suppliers to commit to meeting the AFW within their Asian supply factories. Trade unions at the local level will also push for the AFW from the bottom up through collective bargaining with factory management and popular campaigns.
The AFWC was formed by union leaders and labour activists in Asia's major garment producing countries that came together to explore a union-based Asian strategy for the global garment industry. During initial discussions wages emerged as the central issue and the concept of an Asia Floor Wage was developed and refined between 2005 and 2007.
What began as an Asia-based process has now expanded to become an international alliance which includes support from labour rights groups around the world including the Clean Clothes Campaign, the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN), the International Labor Rights Forum, and many others.
MSN sees the campaign as an innovative regional initiative for increasing wages in a global industry. We are exploring the potential for regional approaches to improving wages with our allies in the Americas, and will be making key materials about the AFWC available in Spanish to share with our allies in Latin America.
MSN will also be pushing apparel and footwear brands with which we are in contact to take action on the AFWC demands within their supply chains.