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Report Shows Doubling Wages Would Add Pennies to T-Shirt

Using figures supplied by textile workers’ unions in Bangladesh, the Trades Union Congress (TUC) calculated that doubling wages from the minimum wage of $41.50 per month would only add 4 cents to the cost of an average t-shirt. The figure is based on the idea that workers are expected to make six t-shirts an hour, for which they are paid 24 cents.

The Trade Unions Congress is a federation of trade unions in the UK. Their general secretary, Frances O’Grady, citing the figure, said, “It isn’t UK consumers – trying to make their wages stretch further as their living standards take a hit – who are to blame for life and labor being cheap in Bangladesh.”

He then pointed out that labor is a very small share of the total price paid by consumers for their garments. This claim, which is commonly made by labor advocates, puts the blame for bad conditions in Bangladesh and other manufacturing countries on multinational corporations that reap the majority of the profits from the global garment trade.

O’Grady then called for global brands and manufacturers to raise wages in Bangladesh, change their behavior with regard to safety, and invest more in their overseas suppliers. Echoing calls from other labor and consumer advocates, he asked that the additional costs come from profits, not from price increases at the register.

Comments from labor often fail to note the conflict between price pressure and corporate responsibility. The reality, owners have noted, is more complex. Although many firms want to engage in better practices, low margins have pushed them toward the cheapest countries.

Consumers have grown acclimated to extremely cheap apparel and jump to cheaper brands when they see even slight price increases, knowing they can likely wait until discounts are applied to unsold merchandise.

 

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