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Living wage, a global battle

In the UK under the banner of austerity and cuts, peoples’ wages and terms and conditions are being eroded. Across the world companies are further squeezing workers’ wages in a race to the bottom to produce goods as cheaply as possible to maximise profit. War on Want believes that all workers should enjoy the right to a living wage, and that the living wage agenda is a key milestone in the fight against poverty and towards equality and social justice.

A worker on a banana plantation in Honduras

What is a living wage?

Many countries, including the UK, have a legal minimum wage however this is often not enough to cover the basic needs of workers and their families. People across the world including trade unions and workers organisations are campaigning for a living wage instead. A living wage can be defined as one that enables workers and their dependants to meet their needs for nutritious food and clean water, shelter, clothes, education, health care and transport, as well as allowing for some discretionary spending.

Why is a living wage needed?

According to recent research by KPMG, one in five workers in the UK – some 4.82 million people – are paid less than a living wage. War on Want has also uncovered a systemic problem of worker exploitation, poverty pay and sweatshop conditions in a number of sectors supplying UK shops and supermarkets. UK companies are making huge profits at the expense of ordinary people.

We have exposed workers in the tea industry in Kenya supplying UK supermarkets earning as little as 7p an hour. We have also highlighted similar poverty pay for workers on farms in South Africa supplying wine and fruit to UK supermarkets, as well as flower workers in Colombia and Kenya.

The fashion industry has come under particular scrutiny in recent years for its failure to ensure workers are paid a living wage. Our report, Stitched Up, revealed the vast majority of garments from Bangladesh sold in UK stores are made by women 18-32 years old – similar ages to many British females who buy them – who struggle to survive amid poor pay and conditions. Sewing operators’ pay started at only £32 (3,861 taka) a month and for helpers at £25 (3,000 taka) a month. But women interviewed cited their average household spending on basic needs, like food and housing, as £75 (8,896 taka) a month.

Join the fight for a living wage

War on Want works with  trade unions and workers' organisations representing workers in sweatshops and plantations in China, Honduras, Bangladesh who are at the frontline in the fight to end exploitation. We also support the campaign for a UK living wage and we are calling for companies to be forced to ensure that workers in their supply chain are also paid a living wage.  Join us!

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Tags: campaigns | living wage