Labouring for a living wage

Labouring for a living wage

The 1st of May has been recognised and celebrated as the International Workers’ Day since 1889. Yet, while progress has certainly been made on respecting and institutionalising workers’ rights, a lot of work remains to be done, especially with regard to living wages for all.

The concept of living wages is well embedded in the international human rights discussion. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) reads (article 23): “Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.” Living wage as a fundamental human right is also recognised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Despite the international recognition as a basic human right, many workers worldwide still live in poverty because they do not receive a living wage for their efforts. The Platform Living Wage Financials (PLWF) is an investor coalition encouraging and monitoring investee companies to address the issue of (non-payment of) living wages in global supply chains.

In late February 2022, the PLWF hosted a side event at the OECD Forum on Due Diligence in the Footwear and Garment sector. We explained what leverage investors have to pushing companies in this sector towards the paying living wages in their global supply chains, but also what the challenges are. It is also from this angle that the PLWF joined the Informal Expert Group to support the OECD Centre for Responsible Conduct in developing a technical handbook on enabling living incomes and living wages in global supply chains. The first kick-off session with a diverse expert group took place in late March. The handbook is expected to be published in 2023.

Discussing developments on living wages and living income is an important agenda point during the PLWF’s plenary sessions, as these topics can be taken into account during assessment cycles. At the PWLF meetings, we regularly invite friends of the platform as guest speakers. Most recently, Shift and Mazars presented their work on a reporting standard for living wage, which is in development right now. Related issues, such as the issue of wage theft in the India garment sector, or the rise of certain very cheap garment companies with very aggressive marketing strategies on social media, were also discussed. Sharing experiences and supporting each other on engagement efforts is also one of the benefits of the PLWF.

As we are well into the year, the PLWF 2022 assessment cycle will soon kick off in the respective working groups on the garment, retail, and food & agri sectors. We are looking forward to the publications of our investees’ annual (sustainability) reports, in which we hope to see more disclosure and progress on living wages. Progress or lack thereof will certainly be discussed with them.