Why Publish Wages
If we are to move the fashion industry to paying fair wages to its workers, we must first acknowledge where we are, and how far we have to go. In an industry where only 2% of manufacturing labor earns a living wage, and an estimated 75% are women, ABLE believes that publishing the lowest wages at our manufacturers protects the most vulnerable workers, and gives consumers clear data to make an informed choice. If they know what the bottom earns, everyone else from there is protected - not an average wage, or a labor cost per garment, but the lowest wage. For 100% of workers to earn a living wage it may take time, but nothing changes corporate exploitation like consumer demand (that’s you).
Lowest Wage Challenge
By beginning to publish our lowest wages in 2018, we took what many believed to be a massive risk, but we believed that when it comes to communicating with our customers, we don’t have to be perfect before we are honest. We think customers are ready for brands to be honest about the challenges facing fashion, and deserve to know whether or not the people who made the clothes on our body have been paid enough to meet their basic needs and live a life of dignity.
Then, in 2019, we announced a partnership with Nisolo, one of our closest competitors in Nashville. In an effort to hold ourselves accountable, we (again) published our lowest wages (us in Ethiopia and them in Peru) and then called on other brands to join us in the Lowest Wage Challenge. And consumers were the most important part of that story, nominating their favorite brands to publish their lowest wages. This brought a new level of transparency and unprecedented accountability that has the power to change the fashion industry forever.
Moving Forward After a Pandemic
As we rolled into 2020, our plan was to finish visiting and auditing all of our manufacturers, including India, Brazil and Mexico. Then, of course, COVID happened. We had already finished all of our audits in Ethiopia and published verified wages in November 2019. We got almost all of our manufacturers to a living wage, whereas most of them were not even averaging 1/3 of that beforehand -- an extremely fulfilling and exciting outcome.
Since then, we haven’t traveled to any of our manufacturers. We obviously still consistently meet with them, but we don’t consider zoom calls as valid auditing information that we can publish on our site. We have a double verification system that requires us to meet individually with those making our products. We plan to start doing more consistent zoom calls with our manufacturers, but in some countries like Brazil, the struggle against Coronavirus is still overwhelming, so we’re not sure when we will be able to travel again.
While we continue to figure out how to move forward, we also want to continue to bring you along on the journey with us. As we gain more clarity with the ability to travel through the pandemic, and how that will impact our ability to audit our manufacturers, we will be sure to update you.