A Voluntary Living Wage Standard ...for those who choose!

Most of us still don't truly understand the ramifications our purchasing demands have on our fellow human beings. Lack of regulatory enforcement in some developing countries and growing voluntary standards in others has seen consumers emerge with the greatest benefit, without often really knowing it. The thing is does that make us responsible? And if so, how can we drive a change towards more ethical trade? This was the question posed recently at ITC's World Trade Export Forum (WEDF) session on "Innovative Business Models for Sustainable Development". One suggestion was to develop a Voluntary Living Wage Standard (VLWS) - overseen by a credible global entity, such as the International Labour Organization (ILO).

Consumers continue to demand more sustainable & responsible choices, despite the on-going impact of the financial crisis on their hip pocket - insisting that buyers should be more accountable for the real cost of their global supply chains. Regulated public or private standards, particularly in developed countries e.g. such as EU REACH or certified organic, are largely focused on health & safety and environmental improvements. In contrast, social/labour standards appear to stubbornly remain in the hands of either voluntary or private standards, like ISO26000 or Fairtrade Certification. In tackling the introduction of a living wage standard, therefore, it is the view of this paper that voluntary standards provide the path of least resistance to improvement. A perspective shared by the Ethical Trading Initiatives Deputy Director Martin Cooke, who says "we're probably a long way from any progress on living wage that isn't driven by voluntary standards".

There is a presumption that for a worker to earn at least a Living Wage is "the right thing". However, it's important to set the parameters of this article - what it aims to achieve and what it does not. It is not intended to address how to calculate a Living Wage (referred to also as a "floor/fair" wage), or even how to define it in absolute terms. Rather on why now is the right time to develop a credible platform, to gather actively interested stakeholders, to progress this agenda. Further, it invites those wishing to pursue such an aim, to contribute and participate in developing a framework, capable of delivering an on-going evolving solution, long into the future.

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About the Author

She has 25 years experience in the international supply chain management of Apparel, Textiles and hardgoods, working across a range of disciplines including product development, factory sourcing, production operations and sustainability governance. Today, as Industry Liaison to the Council of Textile & Fashion Industries of Australia, Paula works with industry, governments and organisations pursuing transparency, sustainability & accountability in their supply chains.