These Big-Name Fashion Brands Just Agreed to Pay Their Workers More

H&M, Zara, and other retailers will raise the wages of their employees in Cambodia.
(Photo: Ints Kalnins/Reuters)
Sep 21, 2014· 1 MIN READ
Kristina Bravo is Assistant Editor at TakePart.

Ready for some guilt-free shopping? H&M, Zara, Primark, and other retailers have promised to raise the wages of their employees in Cambodia.

On Sept. 17, thousands of workers filled the streets of Phnom Penh to protest for an increase in the monthly minimum wage from $100 to $177, according to Radio Free Asia. (A recent government study reported that a Cambodian worker’s basic needs could be covered by a minimum wage of $157 to $177.) Days later, H&M, Inditex (owner of Zara and Primark), and six other retailers wrote to Cambodia’s deputy prime minister and the Garment Manufacturers Association to express their willingness to factor better pay into their prices, reported The Guardian.

“Our purchasing practices will enable the payment of a fair living wage, and increased wages will be reflected in our prices, taking also into account productivity and efficiency gains and the development of the skills of workers, carried out in cooperation with unions at workplace level,” reads the letter.

That means shoppers might have to start paying more, but it’s a small price for improving labor practices abroad. In many countries, employees earn less than $5 a day to produce cheap clothing for Western retailers. Last year, 1,130 died when a factory building in Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed. Poor practices don’t end with the fashion industry; in countries such as India, Nepal, and Afghanistan, children are trafficked to weave rugs in factories.

Ath Thorn, who heads a clothing workers' union in Cambodia, approves of the fashion industry’s recent effort in the country but doesn’t think it’s enough.

“We know from past experience that just a letter isn’t strong enough—the brands must take additional action immediately to ensure a higher wage for Cambodian workers,” he told The Guardian. “To achieve long-term stability and decent wages, we need the ones who make the biggest profits to be accountable.”

Nike’s success story is one reason to be optimistic. Notorious for sweatshop labor in the ’90s, it has committed to fair practices and transparency. In 2005, the company became the first in the industry to publish a list of factories it works with and a report detailing working conditions and pay.