The Circle, with founding member Livia Firth, launch groundbreaking legal study on global wages in the fashion sector

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Talking at The Trust Women Conference in London, Livia Firth launched a major new legal study on global wages to be published in May 2016. The study will build evidence to support the now widely recognised need for a global standard for a living wage. Such a global standard will help to address the exploitation and slavery that is still rife in the fashion sector.

The Lawyer’s Circle in partnership with TrustLaw and the Clean Clothes Campaign, will set out the legal argument for the living wage as a fundamental human right, the duties of companies and governments to uphold this right and the justification for the development of a global standard for a living wage. With the assistance of lawyers in States used by large scale retailers to supply workers, the report will examine relevant labour laws and regulations as well as their implementation/control mechanisms to produce a comparative study.

The report will be used to highlight effective labour laws and to identify weaknesses in wage setting mechanisms. With the report in hand, it is hoped that interested organisations will amongst other things, be able to lobby for stronger national laws, international standards and to enforce the legal obligations to secure a living wage along the fashion supply chain.

Multinational fast fashion companies are able quickly to move their production to lowest wage States. The risk of losing labour/investment acts as a disincentive to States improving their labour laws, providing fair minimum wage rules or implementing existing protections. The result is labour protection is kept to a minimum and essential rights to freedom of association are not guaranteed.

Fast fashion generates vast revenues using a business model that turns around enormous quantities of cheap clothing produced with very short lead times by globally sourced cheap labour. It depends on mass consumption at low prices: ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’; in short, fashion as a disposable product.

Livia Firth says:  “It is widely accepted that neither cheap clothes, nor vast corporate profits can justify the human suffering which is involved in fast fashion supply chains. The garment workers today are treated like slave labour and this has to end. I consider this ground breaking study of the relevant legal environment to be the beginning of a new era for the fashion industry where we will be able to treat garment workers as equals”.

Jessica Simor QC (leading The Lawyers Circle team on this research) says: “I am hugely excited by this study which will consider the legal case for implementing a transnational agreement on living wages as well as potential trade sanctions for failure by States to ensure fundamental labour rights, including freedom of association. The research will focus on the limitations of the laws on supply chain transparency and their effectiveness in countering companies’ interests in maximizing profits through squeezing labour costs.”

Monique Villa, CEO of the Thomson Reuters Foundation and Founder of TrustLaw and Trust Women says: “We have supported many high impact legal research reports tackling the issue of slavery and trafficking, and this report will be vital in confronting the wage issue head on. With a team of global lawyers supporting the research, the limelight will shine on the labour laws underpinning exploitation in the fast fashion industry. It would be a crucial step in bringing an end to the competition between countries for the lowest wages and weakest labour standards”.