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The Price of a T-Shirt Only Needs to Increase by 25-58 Cents to Give H&M’s Workers a Living Wage

Photo: Heng Chivoan, Via: The Phnom Penh Post

There has been a lot of criticisms of fast fashion through the years. People know that the workers that make clothes for big companies like H&M aren’t paid enough, but what would be enough? How much more would clothes have to cost to ensure that the workers get a salary that they can live on? According to Sasja Beslik, who is head of sustainable finance at the Swedish Bank Nordea, the cost of a t-shirt would only have to increase by 25-58 cents. Not percent. Cents.

H&M currently employs 1.6 million workers in their factories. In Bangladesh, which is the country that the study was based on, they earn 87 U.S. Dollars per month, but the living wage in that country is 238,92 U.S. Dollars. According to Beslik’s calculation which is showed below this H&M would have to add 12-33 cents to each t-shirt to double the salary of the workers, and 25-58 cents to give them a living wage.

H&M has responded to the claims by Beslik by saying that the situation isn’t that simple, that workers aren’t employed directly under H&M but under suppliers and that it isn’t H&M’s place to set the living wage for other companies but to reach those new wages through discussion and agreements.

H&M also has this statement written on their website under the category wages, “The H&M group does not own any factories. Our products are made by independent suppliers, often located in developing countries. We believe everyone working in the textile industry should earn a wage they can live on – regardless of who they are and where they work.”

These words don’t mean that much as they promised that the workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh would get livable wages in 2013, and here we are in 2017, and they obviously haven’t delivered on their promise. In 2013 they said, “we are willing to pay more so that the supplier can pay higher wages. It is a collaboration between H&M and our suppliers,” So if they are willing why haven’t they done anything?

The textile industry is big and employs over 60 million people, and a spokesperson for H&M says that many partners need to get involved in changing the wages of the millions of workers and that they can’t do everything alone. However, H&M is still a large global company that has the possibility to exert pressure on the industry and hopefully they will do that so that they can achieve their “goal for H&M’s strategic suppliers to have pay structures in place to pay a fair living wage by 2018” because, right now, they have a long way to go.

Moeun Tola, executive director of labour rights group Central, told the Phnom Penh Post that H&M’s commitment to paying workers a living wage is “propaganda.” Since the workers in H&M’s factories currently work under terrible conditions with a completely unacceptable wage. Workers in Cambodia say that “many were forced to work long overtime hours and threatened with termination if they became pregnant.”, are told that they’ll be fired if they join a union, aren’t paid a living wage and live scared that they could be fired any day.

Photo: Vireak Mai, Via: The Phnom Penh Post

The current situation is completely unacceptable, and while Beslik’s estimates might be simplifications of how the textile industry works, they still show that not much is needed to give millions of workers in the textile industry a living wage. Companies like H&M can’t be allowed to continue acting the way they do when it would be so easy for them to stop. If changing the industry is hard, they can’t get away with inaction; they just have to work harder.

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Ellen Nordlund
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Ellen is an associate editor at Affinity Magazine and also the maker of some of the collages and illustrations that Affinity uses. She spends most of her time thinking about politics.

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