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Indonesia: Human Rights Trial Uncovers “Systemic” Living Wage Violations

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Following a human rights hearing last week, Indonesian judges have found overwhelming evidence of “systemic” rights violations affecting workers in the country’s garment sector.

A jury from the People’s Tribunal established to assess human rights abuses against garment workers in Indonesia said Tuesday that while some progress has been made with regard to providing living wages and freedom of association for workers, some brands still lack the urgency to ensure these rights are afforded.

Clean Clothes Campaign’s (CCC) Mirjam van Heugten said, “A living wage is the cornerstone of decent working conditions. If garment workers are still living in poverty, which we know they are, no brand can claim that they are truly a sustainable company. The fact that brands have become ‘manufacturers without factories’, does not mean they can shirk responsibility for the human right violations of the women who stitch their clothes.”

Wages well below poverty levels are an ongoing concern in Indonesia as workers can earn as little as 31 percent of a wage considered necessary for supporting a family, CCC noted. Wage rates vary by province and are determined based on factors like local cost of living, economic growth and employers’ ability to pay. Last year, 12 province governors agreed to increase minimum monthly wages in 2014 by an average of 19 percent following rampant strikes, but the hike was still lower than the 50 percent increase workers had been seeking. On average, the monthly minimum wage in the nation is $111.

During the hearing, workers’ advocates, expert witnesses and factory workers delivered testimonies about rights violations spanning suspension of minimum wage payments, illegal compulsory overtime, inhuman productivity measures, systematic denial of social security payments, gender discrimination and suppression of the right to freedom of association, according to CCC.

All global brands mentioned in the testimonies were invited to attend the hearing, including Nike, Gap and Walmart, but only H&M and Adidas were present to respond to witnesses’ woes.

According to CCC, H&M had focused on speaking about its Roadmap toward a fair living wage, a plan for getting all of its commercial goods suppliers to pay workers what it considers a fair living wage, but the fast fashion retailer admitted it had not tried to calculate that living wage figure.

Judges at the hearing said global brands must acknowledge their complicity in rights violations and take responsibility for factory conditions whether they are directly involved with the company sewing their garments or not, according to CCC.

The judges have given recommendations to the Indonesian government, state officials, labor officers, trade unions, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and national companies and suppliers for actions to be taken in better the nation’s garment sector. Most notably, they recommended that earning a living wage must be made an inherent part of any sustainable corporate accountability framework.

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