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How do you come up to ensure living wages for the workers who are making apparel products for your brand?

Textile Today Question of the Month

According to a report released on 25 February by Oxfam, women in Bangladesh and Vietnam making clothes for the $23bn Australian fashion industry are going hungry because of wages as low as 51 cents an hour. Oxfam interviewed 470 garment workers employed at factories supplying brands such as Big W, Kmart, Target and Cotton On, and found 100% of surveyed workers in Bangladesh and 74% in Vietnam could not make ends meet.

Oxfam found practices by Australian companies were contributing to driving wages down. Actually, this is true for other buyers also. We see Bangladesh garments manufacturers have increased their workers’ wage up to 51% in December 2018 as workers can live a better life, however, it is not enough to ensure living wages for garment workers.

Brands should come forward to solve the problem. Oxfam said if brands absorbed the cost of paying a living wage, it would amount to less than 1% of the garment price.

How do you come up to ensure living wages for the workers who are making apparel products for your brand?

Shafiur Rahman, Regional Operations Manager, G-Star RAW

Shafiur Rahman, Regional Operations Manager, G-Star RAW

I think brands wouldn’t increase product price by 1 percent. Many brands and retailers shut down their stores due to the competitive market. As a brand, besides, we told we are ready for the new wage board even if it is more about 16000 TK, we are ready to pay.

After declared wages, we are paying the better price and our team coordinates with our suppliers. Suppliers should improve their negotiation skill to get the right product price from brands. Wage is increasing, but simultaneously living cost is being expensive day by day. So the government should remove corruption of all sectors, otherwise, the wage hike will not change the workers’ life.

Rizvan Hasan, Senior Merchandiser, Original Marines

Rizvan Hasan, Senior Merchandiser, Original Marines

Actually, brands don’t pay from their pockets. It is all about consumers, who pay the price for an item. Take an example on yourself. If you see the same shirt of the same quality, but two different prices, you tend to go for a cheaper one. So, even if you increase the price, in the end, there will be the same competition for cheaper goods. So, in the free economy, Oxfam suggested only a theoretical solution.

In a sense, this proposal is kind of begging. You are poor, so you request others to pay higher. Begging is not a sustainable solution. I have discussed this issue with many brands. But they will reply to you with another question, “Why us? Why don’t Bangladesh factory owners take 2% less profit?” Many of them have exotic cars, lavish homes and always on foreign tours. Those already have made their fortunes.

Mohammad Mahbub Hossain, Merchandising Manager, Tex-Ebo International Pte Ltd  

Mohammad Mahbub Hossain, Merchandising Manager, Tex-Ebo International Pte Ltd

Australian Brands are making wages low pushing a lot to down the prices. We work in those factories where as per the law, all benefits are being given. Our team is always crosschecking with our supplier for ensuring our workers living wages.

Kyaw Sein Thay, Director, Merchandising, MGF Sourcing Far East Ltd

Kyaw Sein Thay, Director, Merchandising, MGF Sourcing Far East Ltd

Bangladesh is a country of 170 million population. Less than 5% of its population is engaged in the RMG sector. Even though from the economic participation Bangladesh RMG industry workers are highly exposed to the international world but that represents only 5% of the total population.

55% of the total workforce in the country is still living below the poverty line sometimes earn less than RMG workers. As a nation, there is a limit to what alone RMG industry can take responsibility of the well-being of its workforce.

Oxfam report indicates directly to the customers to pay high or to factory owners to pay higher to the workers but it is always not about paying higher by the customer or by the factory owners. Customers and Factory owners also deal with a lot of element in their own business to stay competitive in the business.

But an industry which only contributes 14% to GDP and employs less than 5% of working people how much change it can bring to the country’s social-economic portfolio if the total country system remains the same. As our company, our team always crosschecking with our supplier to ensure living wages for our workers according to law and demand.

Rafiqul Islam, Director (Merchandising & Marketing), Textus Corporation

Rafiqul Islam, Textus Corporation

We cannot ensure a standard living wage without our honorable buyers’ cooperation. However, we are facing too many problems to keep afloat the apparel sector due to increased wage at 51%. After increasing our worker’s wage we expected kind support from our honorable buyers on the garments price benefit but unfortunately, the product price is decreasing.

It seems the importers are blind on the worker’s issue. They do not want to realize how we ensure the standard minimum wage of our garment workers if they do not increase the garments price.

In the last decade, our manufacturing expenditure and workers living cost has been just doubled. Our banking infrastructure and energy cost have been more tightened up. And finally, in the last December 2018, the labor wages have been increased by 51%.

So inwardly there is no room to minimize this extra financial pressure if it does not come from buyers. We are very much concerned about our dedicated workers and their struggling life but our capability is limited. I think buyers can impose the manufacturer with an extra price for the workers only. This is not a demand, this is a righteous one of our poor workers.

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