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Best Practices - Our members' projects

Focus on living wages

Overview

Field of action

Project partner

 

 


Region

Project duration

Social standards & living wages

Brands Fashion
Melawear
3Freunde
Fairtrade
Six textile factories

India (Northern India & Tamil Nadu)

Autumn 2016 to February 2020

Background

The new Fairtrade Textile Standard aims to improve working conditions and wages throughout the entire textile processing chain. The aim is to guarantee living wages throughout the supply chain and to impose the same environmental, occupational safety and social requirements on all suppliers. As part of the "Piloting the Fairtrade Textile Standard" programme, the companies Brands Fashion, Melawear and 3Freunde have been working in India since August 2017 to achieve this goal: they want not only their manufacturing companies, but also their suppliers (such as ginning, spinning, weaving and dyeing mills) certified according to the Fairtrade Textile Standard. The particular challenge: As the first standard ever, the textile standard defines a fixed time frame of six years within which a living wage must be achieved. The project is financially supported by GIZ as part of the develoPPP.de programme. 

From Knowing to Acting - how the Fairtrade Textile Standard Supports Workers

Interview with Rabea Schafrick and Henning Siedentopp

What was the experience of the participating companies in the first year? What challenges do they face? We asked two project partners:

Rabea Schafrick is sustainability manager at Brands Fashion. The company develops and produces high-quality and fashionable workwear as well as fashion collections. The aim is to produce as many collections as possible from sustainable materials such as organic cotton.

Henning Siedentopp is Managing Director of Melawear. Melawear stands for fair and ecological shirts, hoodies, backpacks and sneakers produced in India.

What is the aim of the pilot programme?

Henning Siedentopp (Melawear): "Existing certifications such as Fairtrade Cotton and GOTS do not sufficiently cover the issue of 'living wages'. With the Fairtrade Textile Standard we want to close this gap - and work together with our suppliers and their subcontractors in India to find viable solutions for structural change".

Rabea Schafrick (Brands Fashion):"In doing so, we place a central focus on strengthening the rights of employees. We want to support the establishment of democratically elected working committees in the factories. This is because they can lobby for wage increases. Both issues are closely interlinked."

Living wages are much debated. What does your approach look like?

Henning Siedentopp: "Basically, we are in an ongoing discussion between politics and civil society about what actually constitutes a living wage - this discussion is also taking place in India. This is where we come in: Fairtrade calculates a sectoral living wage on the basis of existing tariffs negotiated with local trade unions. Where no collective bargaining targets exist, regional benchmarks are determined. We have the right to raise wages to a considerable extent - voluntarily, without statutory requirements."

How do you proceed concretely?

Rabea Schafrick:"Fairtrade and its local partners first determine the status quo in so-called 'pre-assessments'. In workshops and training sessions, concrete questions are then addressed together with workers and management. For example: What are the employees' wishes for the management? What makes a good work environment? The aim is to create an awareness of fair wages and to sensitise and educate the workers."

Henning Siedentopp: "We don't predefine the wage levels for our Indian partners. We point out the difference between the minimum wage and the living wage to them - this difference, by the way, varies according to the individual stages of the value chain. Fairtrade and its partners train the workers' committees and explain to them how to calculate their monthly fixed costs, for example for rent, food, and social security contributions, and how to accumulate savings for emergency situations. However, Fairtrade is not involved in wage negotiations with the management, since the aim is to promote the independence and autonomy of the working committees."

Workers during a training in a ready-made clothing factory (May 2018)
Workers during an introductory training of the Faitrade Textile Programme

How do suppliers react?

Rabea Schafrick:"Many suppliers are initially sceptical. One of the first factories in the project was a dyeing plant, the customers of which usually had only few requirements for compliance with social standards. As a result, they had little experience with the subject there. At the beginning of the project, they did not take this demand from Germany very seriously. We had to do a lot of convincing work, which makes the project a real pioneer task for us.

In general, we can say that in the final stages of the value chain, garment assembly, cooperation with suppliers is still relatively easy, as we maintain close and long-term cooperations here. But the deeper you go into the supply chain, the smaller our share of the production volume. This makes it all the more difficult for us to convince our suppliers. If, for example, a dyeing plant only receives ten percent of its orders from us, the scepticism is naturally higher than in a garment assembly plant that works much more closely with us.

These suppliers in particular are often afraid of alienating other customers - i.e. of losing customers who do not value living wages at their suppliers. Therefore, we hope that other textile companies will join us, because: The more participate, the faster we will get fair wages."

This sounds like a challenging task. What is your success to date?

Rabea Schafrick:"In 2018, a total of two garment assembly companies will be certified. This means that we have achieved one subgoal. By the end of the project period, four more factories in the supply chains of the three project partners should have been added. And we are already receiving feedback today that the desired change in awareness is actually taking place step by step in the factories. A more intensive dialogue is taking place between employees and management, workers know more about their own rights - and last but not least, this often has a positive effect on the economic success of the company. In the training sessions we attended, we were able to observe how the participants became increasingly self-confident and came up with their own suggestions and ideas. Admittedly, these are soft factors so far, but certification will ultimately measure progress.

It is also clear that this task we have taken on is a huge one and ties up many personnel resources. Without the financial support from the GIZ, it would have been difficult for a medium-sized company like us to realize this."

What added value do you as a company get from this commitment?

Henning Siedentopp: "On the one hand, we strengthen the relationship with our producers, as we actively participate in improving the quality of life of employees in India. On the other hand, we are also raising awareness here in Europe that clothing has a price that goes beyond the current market prices - and thus also promote acceptance among customers."

Rabea Schafrick:"We now understand better what it takes to implement social standards across the entire value chain. Suppliers give us insight into their purchase prices, their internal payroll systems and local social security policies, which requires a high level of trust and accessibility. We have also received a lot of positive feedback: Our customers are clearly aware of our commitment."

What are your recommendations to the members of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles?

Rabea Schafrick:"To enter into active dialogue with your suppliers. Create transparency about supply chains and prices. Calculate together how living wages can be achieved and what price difference it really makes in the end."

Finally, please complete these sentences:

In 2030, living wages in the textile value chain...

Rabea Schafrick: "are reality in not all, but a lot of countries around the world."

In 2030, customers say about conventional textiles...

Henning Siedentopp: "...that they are intolerable."

In 2030, you will tell your children...

Henning Siedentopp: "...that we were the first to act and to actively pay their producers more money for the textiles."

Rabea Schafrick: "... that the beginning was difficult, but that it was worth pushing the issue of living wages."

"The Fairtrade Textile Standard provides a good basis for workers in textile companies to be able to negotiate their own wages and to know what their work is worth. Achieving this requires joint effort."

Rapha Breyer, Business Development Textiles,
Fairtrade Germany

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