#nofilter: A living wage revolutionises the position of women

It will take every one of us to ensure that women and men in vulnerable positions also receive a decent living wage for their work.

One in every ten people worldwide – 780,000,000 people – live on less than two dollars a day, even though they’re working. Less than two dollars.

If people working in international production chains received enough income to cover even the basics of food, housing, healthcare, schooling and saving for a rainy day, the world would be a very different place. Millions of local village economies would be more healthy, small businesses would be profitable, and public-sector services could be improved. 

A decent income would also bring hope, human dignity, and a feeling of justice to the hundreds of millions of people struggling to make a living.  Decent incomes would build more stable communities and weed out the root causes of migration.

And now, around International Women’s Day (8 March) and Finland’s Equality Day (19 March), is also a good time to note that decent incomes also strengthen the position of women. Many of the lowest-paid tasks are primarily performed by women. The starting pay on Ethiopian flower farms is about 50 dollars a month, even though a living wage would be about 163 dollars a month. A seamstress in Bangladesh receives an average of 79 dollars a month, even though a living wage would be 214 dollars a month.

Living wages are a vital theme in the food and drink industry, as the majority of those living in extreme poverty work in agriculture.

Ensuring decent wages and incomes requires action from all of us. Consumers can favour products that have been certified for responsibility, and tell companies that product chain transparency and responsibility is important.  Until October 2018, we will forward your greetings through: www.reilukauppa.fi/tunneketjusi

Civic organisations can spark off debate and provide tools. For example, we at Fair Trade participate in the Global Living Wage Coalition by calculating what kind of income would constitute a living wage in different places around the world. To date, we’ve completed calculations for 15 environments – and created a formula for companies to use. We also certify agricultural production in emerging countries that is gradually raising the income of producers and workers towards a living wage.

States can ensure that minimum wages are sufficient to constitute a living wage, and can encourage companies to identify and rectify any human rights violations in their own supply chains.

Unions are essential. Studies by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) show that insufficient wages are most common in countries where unions are weak or collective negotiations on wages are rare.

The companies involved at various steps in the production chain also hold a lot of power. If retailers engage in price competition with prices that are too low, companies that take responsibility seriously cannot compete. And if companies do not communicate the increasing importance of responsibility to their suppliers and perform proper audits, then all talk of ‘responsibility’ is just empty words.

Have a fair and square Women’s and Equality Day!

Tytti Nahi
 the writer works as an Advocacy Manager at Fairtrade Finland