How much do garment workers actually get paid? While brands and retailers usually demur on the subject, Able will not. This month, the Tennessee-based fashion brand took the unprecedented step of publishing its lowest wages on its website.
Doing so, the company said, will help protect workers at the “lowest rungs of the supply-chain ladder.”
“We are publishing our lowest wage, not an average or general labor cost per product, so that consumer demand can protect the most vulnerable,” Barrett Ward, founder and CEO of Able, said in a statement.
A summary of its first audit—a deep dive into its own Nashville headquarters, where all its jewelry is made–is organized to appear like a nutrition information panel, with the lowest wage ($14 per hour, or 126 percent of the Nashville living wage) taking the place of calories per serving. In lieu of fat, carbohydrates and sodium, Able scored its performance on equality, wages and safety based on on-site inspections, employee interviews and verified company documents.
Garment workers often earn less than a country’s minimum wage, let alone a living wage, meaning they struggle to pay for basic needs such as food, clothing, shelter and education, according to the Clean Clothes Campaign, a labor-rights group.
“The dirty secret of the fashion industry is that the things we wear and enjoy are often made by people—mostly women—who can’t even afford to meet their basic needs,” Ward said. “Our dream is that in 10 years or sooner, publishing wages will be as common as a nutritional facts label.”
Able worked with a third-party auditor to develop its own social impact platform, which it calls accountAble, to conduct its evaluations. With the help of an independent agency, the company plans to publish accountAble audits and the lowest wages of its partners in Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico and Peru in the coming months. A manufacturer’s score is most heavily weighted toward paying a living wage, since “studies have shown it is foundational to breaking the cycle of poverty,” Ward said.
At the same time, publishing wages will give consumers a “choice to protect those that make their products,” he added.
In the audit of its own headquarters, Able learned about safety issues it had overlooked. Corrective actions have since been taken, such as increasing ventilation at soldering stations and implementing vacuum systems to reduce airborne dust while drilling. Training and safe-dress policies have also been established.
Able began in 2010 with a single collection of scarves made by women in Ethiopia. It has expanded its offerings to include clothing, bags, jewelry, denim and footwear but says it maintains the same ethos of delivering job opportunities to disadvantaged communities that would otherwise rely on charity.