Your Questions, our answers
Oxfam wants ALL fashion brands in Canada to pay the women who make our clothes a living wage without passing forward that cost to their customers. We also want them to publish step-by-step strategies outlining how and when this will be achieved.
The Canadian fashion industry is raking in profits while the women who make our clothes earn poverty wages. We believe they can easily absorb the cost of paying a living wage in their supply chains.
Join the women who make our clothes and us! Demand the brands you know and love to uphold human rights and pay a living wage. We’re starting by campaigning to make changes in five of the biggest and best-known Canadian fashion brands:
- Herschel Supply Company
- Joe Fresh
Brands listen to YOU because you buy their clothes.
History shows that when people care about the conditions in garment factories around the world, brands listen. Consumer influence has been instrumental in shaping the fashion industry. Significant events such as After the tragic Rana Plaza factory building collapse in Bangladesh in 2013, wage theft and severance pay issues during the COVID 19 pandemic, and many other instances, consumers played a critical role by exercising their power as purchasers. In response to consumer demands for companies to act on safe and healthy working conditions, supply chain disclosure, ESG reporting, etc., many fashion brands have joined initiatives like the Bangladesh Fire and Building Safety Accord, pursued Fair Labour Association Accreditation, and signed the transparency pledge, among other efforts to improve working conditions and worker wellbeing.
Now, we’re pushing for transparency, accountability, and living wages.
You can use your voice and consumer power to pressure brands to change their practices.
Sign the pledge right now to take action on poverty in the fashion industry, and let the biggest and best-known Canadian brands know that the women who make our clothes must be paid a living wage.
Oxfam doesn’t believe the cost of a living wage should be put on consumers. We believe big brands make enough profit to pay a living wage without creating higher prices and transferring the responsibility to the customer.
Oxfam doesn’t advocate for boycotts — it may result in workers losing their jobs. The garment industry is an important part of the economy in many low-income countries, and we want this to remain the case.
Instead, we’re asking that the jobs in these industries be fair and safe — and for people to be paid a living wage for their work. We urge you to use your power as a consumer to:
- Tell companies that you care about the workers producing their clothing
- Ask them to pay a living wage
We encourage you to think about ways to influence the practices of the brands you purchase.
Want to really make an impact? Sign our Pledge.
Oxfam Canada calls on ALL brands to pay a living wage to all the workers making their products. Working with some of the biggest and best-known brands in Canada, we can encourage a ‘race to the top’ on wages for the women who make our clothes. As a start, we’re working to influence five leading companies chosen for their size, consumer demographics and market share in Canada. We look forward to engaging more companies in the future.
Yes! Oxfam Canada’s asks are aligned with many international legal instruments and standards, including:
- Universal Declaration of Human Rights
- International Labour Organization Conventions
- United Nations Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights
- OECD Due Diligence Guidance for Responsible Supply Chains in the Garment and Footwear Sector
- OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct
- Fair Labor Association Workplace Code of Conduct
- Transparency Pledge
Oxfam Canada is also a member of the Canadian Network for Corporate Accountability (CNCA), and together, we are advocating for public policy reform to ensure companies respect human rights and protections.
You can learn more about our partners and allies here.
Oxfam Canada is also a member of the Pay Your Workers Coalition, which came together at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to demand brands and retailers end wage theft and ensure garment workers are paid what they are owed.
This coalition calls for paying an additional percentage on all orders to support a living wage and ensuring severance support is provided when workers have lost their jobs. We believe these actions are an easy first step that we encourage brands to incorporate into their published plans of how they will achieve paying a living wage in four years.
You can learn more about the garment industry and the women who make our clothes in our News & Resources section.
LIVING WAGE VS. MINIMUM WAGE
A living wage isn’t a luxury. It’s a minimum amount that all working people should be paid to escape poverty. It’s a fundamental human right under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23.
A living wage should be earned in a standard work week — no more than 48 hours — and cover a decent standard of living for the worker and their family. A decent standard of living includes food, water, housing, energy, healthcare, clothing, childcare, education and transportation. It also includes saving money for unexpected events like a global pandemic.
Brands have the power and the responsibility to ensure the women who make our clothes can lift themselves out of poverty. Oxfam calls on ALL Canadian fashion brands, starting with five leading fashion labels, to commit to the following:
- Paying the workers in their supply chain a living wage — without passing on that cost to their customers.
- Publishing a step-by-step strategy outlining how and when this will be achieved.
Paying a living wage to the women who make our clothes is now more critical than ever. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many garment workers lost their jobs. Due to production disruption, fashion companies didn’t pay workers for their work, and brands withheld factory payments. The workers had little or no savings and weren’t prepared for this unexpected event.
There are various ways to estimate the living wage for a specific area. Still, the two key methods most relevant to the garment supply chain are the Anker Method and the Asia Floor Wage. Both provide a clear pathway for businesses to move forward on living wages. Both calculation methods are credible, with the Asia Floor Wage usually providing slightly higher figures due to differences in detail, approach and calculation.
The difference between Asia Floor Wage and Anker is due to the difference in assumptions and methodology:
ASIA FLOOR WAGE
It’s based on a standard 3,000 calorie intake per day, a family size of two adults, two children, and one wage earner.
It uses country or area-specific data and demographics to determine the calorie requirements, family size and the number of earning members in a family.
Both methods have different strengths. The Asia Floor Wage sets a single wage level across Asia and calculates that wage across currencies. This method gives one ‘floor,’ or minimum, under which no worker should fall. That removes the ‘race to the bottom’ on wages across the region.
The Anker method is more complex. However, it gives more accurate data based on specific regions and industries of work because it’s calculated using costs from the area where it’s applied.
No matter what method companies use, all methods have some fundamentals in common:
- A living wage must be paid using a working week of no greater than 48 hours.
- It must be enough to afford decent and nutritious food, decent local housing and living conditions.
- It should also cover healthcare and educational costs, support any dependents.
- It should allow some savings and discretionary spending.
Set by governments, minimum wages are the legal, lowest wages allowed to be paid to workers.
A living wage is an amount that’s required to cover a decent standard of living for a worker and their family. It’s earned in a work week of no more than 48 hours. It includes enough money for decent and nutritious food, decent local housing and living conditions, healthcare, education and supporting dependents — and allows for some savings and discretionary spending.
Originally, setting minimum wages in the law meant ensuring that workers were always paid fairly for their work — so wages were enough for living healthily and in decent accommodations.
But in reality, many governments have entered a ‘race to the bottom’ on wages by lowering and keeping low wages to attract foreign companies. In many countries, including the key garment-producing ones in Asia, the result is that legal minimum wages are as low as a quarter of what a fair living wage would be.
The cost of living in the countries where fashion brands source from is far below what workers are currently earning. For example, the Global Living Wage Coalition calculated that the living wage in Bangladesh should be around C$282 per month, while the Asia Floor Wage calculation suggests it’s about C$703. However, the country’s current minimum monthly wage is a mere C$97.36.
In Cambodia, the situation is no better. The Global Living Wage Coalition calculated that the living wage should be around C$303 per month. Using the Asia Floor Wage calculation, it’s about C$967. However, the women who make our clothes only earn C$262 as minimum wage per month.
These poverty wages force the women who make our clothes into dire conditions, pushing them to work excessive overtime and spiral into debt. A living wage should meet the basic needs of a worker and their family and be earned in a standard work week of no more than 48 hours. But these women often work around 60 hours a week and can’t afford basic necessities like nutritious food, decent housing, utilities, healthcare, education, childcare, transportation, clothing, and some savings for unforeseen emergencies.
These heartbreaking conditions must change. It’s not only about living wages; it’s about respecting their human rights!
Oxfam thinks we should shoot higher and fight for human rights.
It’s practically impossible for the women who make our clothes to live decently on what they’re making. Poverty forces them to live in slums, away from their families, working 12 hours a day while falling into spiraling debt.
No one has the right to take advantage of women in poverty and violate their fundamental human rights in the name of profit.
Globally, the garment sector is among the largest employers of women workers. The industry holds great power and potential to impact the lives of millions of women in low-income countries and, by extension, their families and communities.
MAKING CHANGE TOGETHER
Absolutely, and YOU can support us in making the change. Suppose we can get even one or two major fashion brands to pay a living wage in their supply chains. That would have a huge impact and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of women and their families.
The women making our clothes often work up to 12 hours per day, including overtime. Yet, they’re paid as little as 46 cents to C$1.50 an hour, depending on the sourcing country. That isn’t enough to afford decent housing, nutritious food, or health care — let alone have any savings. That’s why we are supporting women workers to change this.
There are many ways to hold brands accountable. Everyone has a role to play.
As a consumer, let brands know you care about the people who make your clothes and want to know the company’s full supply chain. Message them on social media, ask the staff at a store where you’re shopping, email brands or ask in a website chat box. Hey, you could even write a letter! No matter the medium, let brands know you care who makes your clothes and that they receive a living wage.
Brands are responsible for taking action. It’s their obligation to respect human rights under the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In Canada, brands still operate on voluntary standards with minimum reporting legislation on forced labour and child labour.
For Canadian fashion brands to respect human rights, they must change their practices. Brands can make a commitment today. Through What She Makes, we’re giving brands a chance to step up, be transparent, and make a public commitment to pay the workers making their clothes a living wage.
Oxfam will continue to push fashion brands in Canada and hold them accountable. Our Brand Tracker charts the progress of five of the biggest and best-known Canadian fashion brands.
Apparel supply is a buyers’ market where purchasers have the upper hand over the factories. Brands buy the clothing that oversea factories assemble. Brands have options to change factories, as there’s no shortage of factories to supply products to them.
In this market dynamic, buyers strongly influence the supply chain. Buyer power to effect positive change can be more substantial when they collaborate and join multi-stakeholder initiatives. One example is Bangladesh’s Accord on Fire and Building Safety. Major brands helped make workplaces safer to prevent another disaster like the Rana Plaza tragedy.
Yes. We have contacted each of the five brands we’re currently focusing on and communicated the need to commit to a living wage in their supply chains. Ongoing corporate engagement, backed with your voice, is how we aim to achieve a living wage for the women who make our clothes.
Poverty wages in the fashion industry are a global issue.
Oxfam has focused our campaign on supplier countries where wages are the lowest — and people remain trapped in poverty despite working long hours.
In Bangladesh and Cambodia, Oxfam works in partnership with workers, unions, activists and women’s rights organizations to document poverty wages and support worker rights struggles. Our campaign began by spotlighting Bangladesh as one of the countries where wages are excessively low, because it’s the second largest supply country for clothing in Canada.
Our commitment to fight poverty and inequality extends beyond these countries and we will continue to expand our campaign impact in the future.
The garment industry employs far more women than men. For example, women comprise over 70 per cent of garment workers in China. In Bangladesh, the share is 80 per cent, and in Cambodia, it’s as high as 90 per cent.
Women garment workers are an especially vulnerable group. Women garment workers have few support systems and endure harassment and abuse from managers. They come from low-income backgrounds, sometimes are illiterate, and many began working as children. Single women in these countries face discrimination and marginalization, making it difficult to secure their rights.
While it’s not just women who are affected by these human rights violations, women workers tend to be more vulnerable to these risks than men. That’s why women are at the heart of this campaign.