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Raise Wages: Revisited

Raise Wages: Revisited

After the blur of Black Friday (and our own Transparent Friday), we thought it would be a good idea to revisit one of our 2021 t-shirt campaigns: Raise Wages. 

 Raise Wages!

A Living Wage is a Human Right

A living wage is recognised by the UN as a human right [1]. It’s a wage that’s enough to afford a decent standard of living for a worker and their family. It should be earned in a standard working week of no more than 48 hours. It must include enough to pay for food, water, housing, education, healthcare, transportation, clothing and some discretionary earnings, including savings and unexpected events. 

 

There’s a huge difference between a Living Wage and the legal minimum wage

In many of the countries where clothes are made, the legal minimum wage falls increasingly short of a living wage, and that gap is ever growing. In Bangladesh, the minimum wage falls short by 28%, in Hungary it falls short by 40%, and in China, by 46%. There are also a number of countries that have no legal minimum wage at all. [2]

 

This is a global problem, and it includes the UK

Living Wages are falling short worldwide, so this isn’t just a problem halfway across the world that we can ignore. It applies to us in the UK too. 

In the UK, the Real Living Wage is £9.90, with an adjustment of £11.05 in London, to account for higher living costs. This is independently calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, based on living costs. [3]

But the government’s statutory Minimum wage is £9.50 - short by 40p an hour nationally, and £1.55 in London. While this might seem like small change, it adds up over the course of a year. A full-time worker could earn £780 a year more on the Living Wage, than on the government’s Minimum Wage. If that full-time worker was in London, the difference shoots up to £3,022. [4]

1 in 6 workers in the UK are still paid less than that Living Wage. Workers from ‘racialised groups’ are more likely to be paid below the Living Wage than white workers (19.4% compared to 16.3%) [4]

In the fashion industry, a 2017 Dispatches investigation found garment workers making Boohoo products in the UK earned only £3 an hour, which is well below the legal minimum wage. [5]

 

The fashion industry doesn’t offer any incentive to raise wages

In fact, the fashion industry can be a hindrance to Living Wages. There’s little incentive for governments to raise the minimum wage, and there’s the constant fear that higher minimum wages will lead to brands shifting their orders to countries where labour costs are lower. As a result, minimum wages are never raised to meet a level of subsistence (in line with the cost of basic needs). 

 

Brands make all sorts of excuses for not committing to a Living Wage 

We could shift responsibility back to the government, for failing to bring in proper legislation. We could blame suppliers, say that it’s their responsibility rather than ours. We could blame customers, chalk it all up to people not wanting to pay more for clothes that are made fairly. 

But ultimately, as a brand, it is our responsibility to respect and value the people who make our clothes by paying them a real and substantial Living Wage. 

 

Here’s what we do

Here at Birdsong, we believe that making good clothes is reliant on good people, good working conditions, and good pay. We know that our garments cost a little more than the high street, and that’s because we make sure that we pay our workers a London Living Wage.

We believe that all garment workers deserve a fair, living wage, not the poverty wages that 93% of brands currently pay.⁠ 30% of our RRP goes back to garment workers, predominantly around Tower Hamlets, East London, back to local economies and communities that need it most. This is an achievement we’re really keen to celebrate, especially since it’s miles above the 1-3% industry average.⁠ 

In 2020 we provided £33,040.87 in London Living Wages and revenue for the local charities and community groups in our supply chain. 

In 2021 we became a team of six, and everyone on the main team is now on the same pay band of around £110-£160 per day/£30,000-£32,000 pro rata, with a higher rate for part-time freelance staff to account for sick and holiday pay. 

We’re committed to transparency, one of our goals for 2021 was to become more financially transparent. You can check our Impact Report for a full run down of our impact, but we also encourage you to check our Transparent Friday posts, where we shared our financial secrets instead of massive discounts. 

 Raise Wages Smileys!

 

 

[1]: https://www.ethicaltrade.org/issues/living-wage-workers/living-wage-standards 

[2]: https://fashionchecker.org/living_wage.html  

[3]: https://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-real-living-wage 

[4]: https://www.livingwage.org.uk/news/real-living-wage-increases-%C2%A39.90-uk-and-%C2%A311.05-london-cost-living-rises 

[5]: https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/channel-4-dispatches-britains-cheap-clothes-investigation-national-living-wage_uk_5885e797e4b0b8867de86378 

 

Further reading:

The Living Wage Foundation.

Big Issue's Guide to the Living Wage.

UK garment worker wages.

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