Why anyone who supports women's rights should support living wages…but will have to demand that they reach all the way through the supply chain

by 06th Nov 2013
Female textile workers in Bangladesh Female textile workers in Bangladesh © CARE / Josh Estey

CARE International's request to business in this year's Living Wage Week is simple. Implement living wages, and do it having ensured that you understand the key role of women in your supply chain, so that the women working at the end of the supply chain, as well as having a decent wage, will also have some equality with their male counterparts.

Living wages are essential to deliver the 'just and favourable remuneration' every worker has a right to under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art 23). Under the same article workers also have a right to equal pay for equal work. This right to equal pay is obviously of particular importance to women. Today, women's pay on average ranges from 20 per cent less than men's in some countries such as Mozambique and Pakistan, to over 80 per cent less in Côte d'Ivoire.

Today's approach is to calculate living wages by reference to an objective standard (see for instance the Asia Floor Wage method), based on nutritional needs, likely size of household, and the cost of other basic needs. So there is no room for any arguments about men needing more than women. Therefore, we should expect that living wages will deliver two wins on rights for women: 'just and favourable remuneration' and 'equal pay for equal work.'

Living wages along the supply chain

However, as the 2012 World Development Report on Gender Equality and Development points out: "Men and women work in different industries and occupations… women are more likely to engage in low productivity activities than men and to work in the informal sector…Of industrial homeworkers in some developing countries, such as Chile and Thailand, 80 per cent are women." The promise that living wages holds for women is only going to be achieved if living wages reach all the way down the supply chain.

And at the moment they don't even reach what is pretty much the top end of the supply chain in many developing countries. For example, Oxfam found in their report on labour rights in Unilever's supply chain in Vietnam, that, although "all wages paid in Unilever's own factory clearly were well in excess of the applicable minimum wage", they were found "not to meet other key benchmarks of the basic needs of employees and their families, such as the Asia Floor Wage...and Oxfam's estimate…of monthly expenses for an adult with a child." And they also found a pretty mixed picture among Unilever's direct suppliers in Vietnam.

'Invisible' women's roles

So there's a lot to be done to move the overall living wage agenda forward. But our own programme experience also highlights how 'invisible' women's roles can be.

CARE is part of the Cocoa Life Partnership with Mondelez. Cocoa is viewed as a 'male' crop within most producing countries but the gender division of labour often involves women concentrating on activities such as cocoa drying which are critical to the productivity and quality of the final output. Women are therefore critical to the value of the crop for both the framers and for Mondelez. Addressing the key constraints faced by women in cocoa farms (and at the community and household level) has led to an increase in household income from cocoa farming of 118%.

As Helene Gayle, CARE CEO, recently blogged:

"I'm often impressed by just how much brands know about their consumers… Yet most companies know very little about the people who produce the raw material for their products…And we've learned something even more fundamental: large companies do not yet fully understand the role of women."

This post was originally posted on http://www.ethicaltrade.org/news-and-events/blog/gerry-boyle/what-can-living-wages-do-for-women.


Gerry Boyle

Gerry led CARE International UK’s policy analysis and advocacy around value chains and dignified work. He originally joined CARE as the Senior Policy Adviser on Private Sector Engagement. With the advent of our new Global Programme Strategy which put a particular emphasis on women’s economic empowerment, his focus changed a little.

Gerry co-chaired the Bond Private Sector Working Group. Immediately before he joined CARE he worked for Oxfam as Head of Business Relations for about three years, but the vast majority of his career was spent as a management consultant including being a consulting Partner at Deloitte, where for a time he led Deloitte UK’s Consumer Business consulting practice, serving many major multinationals. Gerry's original degree was in Law from Oxford University, and in 2008 when he left Deloitte he did an MSc in Philosophy and Public Policy at LSE.

One good thing I've read

Amartya Sen’s Development as Freedom. It provides a framework for many people’s modern understanding of what is development, based on a profoundly human-centred approach rather than anything instrumental. And to check whether one personally is doing enough to fight poverty, I recommend Peter Singer’s The life you can save: Acting now to end world poverty – it’s very clear and easy to read but very challenging! Finally, Ha-Joon Chang’s Bad Samaritans: Rich nations, poor policies, and the threat to the developing world is a very readable guide to economic development which argues strongly against many of the prevailing orthodoxies.

Twitter: @gerryboyle10