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Living wage conference calls for action

29 November, 2013Freedom of association and collective bargaining are prerequisites for a living wage. Building the commitment of governments, business, trade unions and other civil society organisations to work jointly towards living wages in international supply chains was discussed at the European Conference on Living Wages in November.

The conference, sponsored by the German and Dutch governments, took place in Berlin from 25-26 November. It brought together representatives from trade unions, multistakeholder initiatives, NGOs, governments and, crucially, brands and retailers that source from countries where wages fall far below a living wage.

A large contingent from Bangladesh included representatives of the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council, the garment employers’ organization BGMEA and government. Their focus was on the responsibility of brands sourcing from Bangladesh to ensure fair pricing to enable factories to pay a living wage.

The discussions emphasized the need for collective action. In particular, brands need to work together to use their purchasing practices to ensure that living wages are paid in those factories from which they jointly source. Many participants referred to the Bangladesh Accord, signed by IndustriALL Global Union, UNI and more than 100 global brands, as an example of what is possible and a model for living wage initiatives.

There was a clear understanding that without freedom of association and collective bargaining, a living wage will not be achieved or maintained. Workers must be able to negotiate for wages that reflect their contribution to the creation of value. Governments, businesses and unions all have a role in ensuring that they have that right.

The conference also considered the role of governments in ensuring that minimum wages are living wages. Obon Tabroni, Vice President of IndustriALL affiliate FSPMI, addressed the conference and explained how the Indonesian unions were able to mobilise 2 million workers to fight for an increase in the minimum wage.

An action plan was presented to the conference, setting out the responsibilities of governments, business, MSIs, trade unions and other civil society organisations to take steps towards a living wage. The action plan puts a strong focus on the need to ensure freedom of association and collective bargaining, including through capacity building for employers in supply chains on what this means. It also emphasizes the need for buyers to team up with other buyers to create leverage towards governments in production countries and towards their own suppliers. 

Jenny Holdcroft, policy director at IndustriaALL, concludes:

The value of this conference will be if it increases momentum towards living wages. We want to see greater political commitment by governments to using their influence towards increasing minimum wages in producing countries, but also to insisting that MNCs based in their countries guarantee that all workers in their supply chains are paid a living wage.