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WELCOME TO THE ARCHIVE (1994-2014) OF THE MAQUILA SOLIDARITY NETWORK. For current information on our ongoing work on the living wage, women's labour rights, freedom of association, corporate accountability and Bangladesh fire and safety, please visit our new website, launched in October, 2015:

Living wage: A worker's right

November 5, 2013

Reversing the race to the bottom on workers' wages

ON OCTOBER 21, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) launched a Week of Action in 15 European countries calling on clothing companies around the world to Pay a Living Wage to the workers who make their products.

CCC is demanding that clothing brands and retailers establish measurable targets throughout their supply chains to ensure garment workers get paid a living wage, and is calling on national governments in garment producing countries to make sure minimum wages are set at living wage standards.

The CCC campaign is profiling the work of the Asia Floor Wage Alliance, citing it as a positive example of collaboration between unions and labour rights NGOs at a regional level to reverse the race to the bottom on wages and establish a common formula and specific wage figures by country that would meet workers' basic needs.

While the formula developed by the Alliance is not directly transferable to other regions of the world, the concept of a regional floor wage, and the experience of groups working together across borders to win a living wage could inspire similar initiatives in other garment-producing countries.

To learn more about the CCC campaign, click here.

Central American maquila wages sink below poverty line

Most workers employed in Central American maquila factories are paid wages that not only fail to meet the basic needs of themselves and their families, but aren't sufficient to meet their nutritional needs.

This is the central finding of a just-released study co-authored by the Commission for the Verification of Codes of Conduct (COVERCO) of Guatemala, the Honduran Independent Monitoring Team (EMIH), Professionals for Corporate Social Auditing of Nicaragua (PASE), labour rights expert Sergio Chavez of El Salvador, and the Maquila Solidarity Network (MSN).

The 32-page Spanish-language study, Una aproximación al salario de vida en el sector maquila en Centroamérica [Towards a living wage in the maquila sector in Central America], shows that although the right to a living wage is guaranteed in the constitutions of the four countries, the governments have set minimum wages for maquila workers that are below basic market basket levels set by the same governments.

In order to attract and maintain foreign investment, separate minimum wages have been established for maquila workers in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador that are lower than those for workers in other sectors, despite the fact that the workers are producing for highly profitable northern brand-name apparel companies.

In Honduras, an even lower minimum wage has been established for maquila workers in the southern and western regions of the country.

In two of the four countries studied, Nicaragua and Honduras, the minimum wages for maquila workers are below the respective national extreme poverty line.

The study concludes that a variety of strategies will be needed to improve workers' incomes, including pressure on the brand buyers, collaboration among trade unions and labour rights NGOs at the regional level, tripartite negotiations on the minimum wage at the national level, collective bargaining at the factory level, and multi-stakeholder initiatives to achieve a living wage.

For a copy of the Central America study (in Spanish) click here.

Real wages fall worldwide

A July study by the US-based Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) reveals that garment workers' real wages are decreasing in most countries around the world.

The WRC found that between 2001 and 2011, garment workers' wages in Bangladesh, Mexico, Honduras, Cambodia and El Salvador declined in real value by an average of 14.6%, further widening the gap between what workers are actually paid and what they need to be paid to meet their basic needs.

In none of the 15 countries included in the study did the prevailing monthly straight-time wage provide garment workers with the equivalent of a minimum living wage," says the WRC report. "On average, the prevailing wage in 2011 for garment workers in each of the countries included in the study provided little more than a third-36.8 percent-of the estimated living wage in the same country . . . "

According to the study, "minimum wages have been raised in Cambodia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, and China, largely as a result of massive protests and often spontaneous strike actions by workers in those countries."

Click here for a copy of the WRC study.

Wage theft in Haiti

As demands for increased wages gain strength, some workers are still being cheated out of the legal minimum wage.

Garment workers in Haiti producing clothes for major North American brands and retailers, including Canada's Gildan Activewear, are being paid wages that are substantially lower than the legal minimum wage, says an October 15 WRC report entitled "Stealing from the Poor: Wage Theft in Haitian Apparel Industry."

According to the WRC, "the majority of Haitian garment workers are being denied nearly a third of the wages they are legally due as a result of the factories'
theft of their income."

Wage theft by factory owners in the poorest country in the hemisphere is leaving workers with incomes that are "dramatically short of what they and their families need to meet the daily costs of an already impoverished existence," says the report.

In early November, an open letter signed by more than 45 labour rights groups in the U.S. and Canada, including MSN, called North American apparel companies doing business with Haiti to require their suppliers in that country to pay the legal minimum wage, provide assurances to those suppliers that they will maintain business with them, and pay sufficient prices for garments so that the suppliers can pay a living wage while preserving jobs for Haitian workers.

Click here for a copy of the WRC Haiti report.

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