State of Pay

Labour Behind the Label in its report, Let’s Clean Up Fashion 2008, analyzed the state of pay of big brands in the UK:

THE STATE OF PAY

No brand or retailer is paying its workers a living wage, or has even put in place a systematic approach to do so. But over half the retailers that responded to our survey were able to cite specific actual or planned projects that were aimed at raising workers’ wages. Here is how the high street breaks down.

NOTHING TO SAY AT ALL

Alexon, Bhs, Ethel Austin, MK One, Peacocks, Stylo
These companies didn’t reply, and made no information on available on their websites.

NO WORK TO SPEAK OF ON LIVING WAGES

Burberry, Clarks, Debenhams, French Connection, House of Fraser, John Lewis, Laura Ashley, Levi Strauss & Co, Matalan, Mosaic Fashions, River Island While some of these retailers accept the idea that workers should earn living wages and that they currently do not, none of them had any concrete plans to do anything about this. This is symptomatic of the fact that they and all seem to be further behind in ethical trading more generally. Levi Strauss is the exception, having made a policy decision not to support work on living wages. Not surprisingly, only
two of these companies (Debenhams and River Island) are members of a multi-stakeholder initiative.

ONE CHEER: MENTION OF WORK ON LIVING WAGES, BUT
UNCONVINCING SO FAR

Sainsbury’s, Asda, Primark, Arcadia, Tesco
These retailers claim that they have plans for pilot projects, but do not give any substantial details. Asda has a clear plan for pilots in Bangladesh, but they will focus on productivity improvements only and do not appear very clearly developed. Primark only mentions plans for a “small project in India”, and Sainsbury’s says it is waiting for progress in the ETI wages group. Tesco only commits to research. All four of these are members of the ETI group, which after a year has yet to begin any on-the-ground work. Unlike other retailers in the same position, however, they did not describe any substantial projects of their own on living wages. Arcadia has two pilot projects, but in neither does it commit to raise wages.

TWO CHEERS: WORK TO INCREASE WAGES, BUT NOT
ENOUGH YET

M&S, Gap, Monsoon Accessorize, New Look, Next
Monsoon and Gap are the only retailers so far to have publicly committed to a project that contains all four of our pillars of a good project. Monsoon expects to wrap up the pilot and start rolling it out within a year, a much more ambitious target than many others have set. The caveat is these retailers are reaping the benefits of the ETI project, whose terms of reference they are using, without the hassle of needing to agree a collaborative approach with other retailers before it can start. And of course they sent us plans, which are yet to be put into practice.
The other retailers in this group have genuinely interesting initiatives, but they lack a plan to pay living wages. The focus is on productivity improvements, although each goes beyond that to meet some of our criteria for a good project. For example, Next is investigating wages of home and migrant workers, and New Look and M&S made clear mention of worker organising (though both were more ambiguous about trade unions). The projects vary in complexity, with the best appearing to be those at M&S and New Look, who also commit to roll out the learning from their projects to other suppliers within a specified timeframe.

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