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Swiss fashion brands slow to ensure living wage

The legal minimum wage in Bangladesh is 21% of the living wage level estimated by the Asia Floor Wage method. Keystone / Abir Abdullah
This content was published on September 19, 2019 - 09:00

Campaigners are calling on Swiss fashion brands to step up efforts to ensure workers in their supply chains are treated fairly. The latest analysis by civil society shows Swiss firms are not meeting global standards on transparency and a living wage.

Of the 19 Swiss brands evaluated by Swiss NGO Public Eye, only clothing brand Nile confirms that at least some of the workers in its supply chain are paid a living wage.

According to information provided by the clothing company based in Canton Bern, its two main suppliers in China, responsible for half of its production volume, pay a living wage to their staff. Nile is also the only company that has set a deadline for the payment of a living wage to all workers – by 2020.

This is one bright spot in the assessment of fashion brands published on Thursday by Public Eye and the Clean Clothes Campaign. The evaluation is based on a questionnaire sent to 45 fashion brands, of which 19 are Swiss, that include luxury, sportswear and online commerce such as the Calida Group, Tally Weijl and Mammut.

The analysis reveals that, despite commitments made by several brands, such as H&M, in the last few years none of the 45 companies have ensured all workers making their clothes receive a living wage. Just one other company besides Nile has such a guarantee for at least some workers.

Some 60% of companies have indicated a public commitment to ensure a living wage, of which six are based in Switzerland. Just four Swiss brands have developed a strategy to achieve this.

The debate on living wage

Living wage has been a hotly debated topic in the garment industry in the last few years amid growing consumer backlash against “fast fashion” (clothing produced quickly and sold cheaply to consumers) and the pressure it puts on working conditions for producers. Legal minimum wages in countries such as Bangladesh and Turkey are far below what labour- rights experts consider to be sufficient to meet a worker and their family’s basic needs.

The Clean Clothes Campaign reports that determining what is a living wage has been a source of disagreement. Some brands have been arguing that there is no universally agreed figures, while NGOs retort that solid calculations and wage ladders exist on a country or regional level.

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Many big brands have stepped up efforts on transparency, with just over half of the 45 global brands now publishing information about their suppliers. Information quality varies, note the study authors, with Nike offering the most detailed information on workforce gender breakdown, migrant worker numbers, as well as location, and subcontractor relationships.

Only two Swiss brands, organic cotton trader Remei and Workfashion, publish a list of all production sites, number of suppliers and workers, as well as ownership structure.

Public Eye spokesperson Géraldine Viret told that “progress has been made in terms of supply chain transparency by major international firms, but most Swiss companies are lagging behind.”

“And for almost all the companies surveyed, there is no transparency on the salaries paid by suppliers,” she added. “This remains a ‘taboo’ that needs to be broken.”

Public Eye has launched a campaign calling on consumers to collect and share information about brand practices.

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