Journey towards a living wage

By Wilbert Flinterman, Fairtrade International

The topic of living wages has increased its importance among the public consciousness, both in the North as well in the South: from the strike of fast-foods´ workers in the USA to the textile global companies in Bangladesh, people are getting more and more aware of the need of ensuring means to cover workers´ and their families´ needs, and to save a little extra money for “just in case”.

Nevertheless, workers face everyday problems in order to achieve these results, especially in agriculture, where no living wage is agreed. Fairtrade International has been helping them to better protect their rights since years. Its Standard for Hired Labour states the need to start off paying the (often too low) legal minimum wage moving towards a living wage. This should be done ensuring at the same time the staying into business of the companies, without causing job losses and ending up in an even worse situation.

First objective within the Fairtrade International project is to define how much a living wage has to be. In doing so, it commissioned the experts Richard and Martha Anker to adapt their method of calculating this wage to the needs of an agricultural worker (and of his/her family), running four pilot plans and working with local teams in South African wine grape farms, Dominican Republic banana plantations, Malawian tea plantations, and Kenyan flower plantations. The result was an estimation of expenses based on a three-“basket” scheme: food and nutrition costs, a decent housing and other essential needs.

After a living wage´s benchmark has been set, next step is to tackle companies to pay a legal minimum wage and turning to a proper living wage. The idea is that workers can themselves negotiate for better pay and working conditions. They need therefore to be well represented by trade unions and strong organisations; for this reason, one of the key point of the Fairtrade International´s Standard for Hired Labour is to ensure and strength their Freedom of Association.

They also changed the rules of the Fairtrade Premium, so that now workers can spend up to 20% of it for cash or in-kind benefits, amount reaching the 50% if the majority of workers are migrants.

But this is not enough, if the (already growing) global Fairtrade certified sales do not increase; nevertheless Fairtrade International has reached out and joined not only several companies and multi-stakeholders platforms, like the World Banana Forum and the Ethical Tea Partnership, but also other standard-setting organizations to form a living wage working group.

This journey towards a living wage needs all of us: the local plantations, exporters and importers, brands, retailers and everyday shoppers are required to pay a little more in order to ensure  workers at the far end of the supply chain their rights.

Read more about Fairtrade International’s perspective on workers’ rights here.

Read the full article here.