An independent, non-profit organization, not beholden to any public or private subsidies, founded to lead to an international convention to establish a global minimum wage for export workers.
Worldwide, most consumers and workers hope to bring an end to working conditions akin to slavery and would welcome the establishment of a global minimum wage.The last international convention against slavery was organized by the League of Nations in 1926 and an international convention for the creation of a global minimum wage, was conducted in 1928 by the International Labor Organization(ILO). Since then, there has been no overall measure to improve the working conditions and remuneration of the most vulnerable populations.
Therefore, in a context of unbridled globalization, where profits reign supreme, there is an urgent need to define new rules to eradicate working conditions close to slavery. We must get the two main consumer markets to sign an agreement with the largest possible number of emerging and developing countries. This protocol could initially involve employees whose activity is related to exportation to the U.S.A. and the E.U.
Francis JOURNOT, Paris, France, september, 27 2013
A GLOBAL MINIMUM WAGE THAT IS SPECIFIC TO EXPORTATION
The idea of a global minimum wage is not new, but in the absence of a pragmatic project, the idea has never made any serious headway. The median salary according to the standard of living and average wages in each country is the most common suggestion, but putting a system like that into place would take decades.
Indeed, in 1928, the last Convention concerning the Creation of Minimum Wage-Fixing Machinery, left tremendous leeway to each signatory nation, but the Convention was a failure: “Each Member which ratifies this Convention shall be free to decide the nature and form of the minimum wage-fixing machinery, and the methods to be followed in its operation.”99countries ratified the convention, including China in 1930 and India in 1955 – to little effect, as we now know. Other countries didn’t join until 2006 or 2007, some 80 years later.
Thus this experience teaches us that, in order to be efficient and to be ratified quickly by the largest possible number of members, any new international convention must necessarily establish precise, common methods of application.
In addition, the process must not be financially onerous for the member states.
To begin with, the global minimum wage we advocate would be aimed at wage-earners whose work is related to products and services for export to the world’s largest consumer markets.
The heads of developing states could see the advantages of a decent wage, which would also be a source of tax revenue and would contribute to development paid for, in part, by consumers, essentially in the West. In the long term, the minimum wage could generate a positive macroeconomic effect on the standard of living of entire populations.
Currently, with hourly wages generally ranging from a few cents to less than half a euro, wages’ share in the production cost of consumer goods produced in low-wage countries often represents only 1 to 5% of the total price paid by the consumer.
A specific global minimum wage of $300 to $400 would increase production costs, but should still have only a moderate impact on consumer prices.
Between the effects of the global economic crisis – which has reduced purchasing power – and increased competition, with an endless stream of new players, particularly in the garment industry, supply generally adapts to demand, and price tags for low-end and middle-range consumer goods have been shrinking.
The fact is that the large corporations that outsource labor to low-wage countries generally enjoy wide enough margins that they can reduce them without harming their own profits.
Apple, for example, posted a total of nearly $80 billion profits in 2013 and 2014, and chains like ZARA and H&M have been opening some 400 new luxury megastores a year, in some of the world’s most desirable real estate.
IMAGINING A CHANGE IN MODES OF PRODUCTION
Integrating a living minimum wage and the actual environmental impact into production costs would guide us towards curbing consumerism and, long term, would help reduce global warming as well.
Raising industrial wages in developing nations would reduce the productivity gap between industrial production and craftsmanship.
That would encourage the growth of local cottage industries and farms that are more respectful of the environment, which could then guarantee vital revenue to independent craftspeople or employees of smaller-scale structures, particularly in developing nations.
Production would gradually evolve towards a higher-quality, less-disposable offer with less planned obsolescence, which would subsequently be more economical for consumers.
At a time when the economic model based on a headlong race for growth has revealed its limits, but continues nonetheless to contribute to the destruction of our planet, it is time to require asocial- and ecological-responsibility percentage from the world’s largest corporations.
It could be calculated on the basis of the true environmental footprint of the services oritems sold.
It would take into account the quality or solidity of the items, and the working conditions for those offering services directly or producing items for sub-contractors, as well as all stages of sales and delivery, including advertising.
Through a global agency devoted to this process, their contribution could finance actions in favor of fighting global warming, particularly through developing local economies and cottage industries, or any other actions leading to reducing the corporations’ ecological footprint. The task would be less daunting that it might seem, because fewer than 400 international corporations share the quasi-totality of the global marketplace. It would be only right and fair that corporations which profit excessively from the world’s resources should contribute financially to repairing the damage they cause.
In your World Day of Peace message communicated on 10 December 2014 entitled “No longer slaves, but brothers and sisters,” you drew attention to the “social responsibility of consumers” thus: “Every person ought to have the awareness that ‘purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act’”.
It is true that consumers can and must reduce their consumerism. Yet responsibility also lies with the free-trade policies that encourage consumerism and which, in just a few years, have caused CO2 emissions to sky rocket. Purchasing used to be a considered act based on looking for the best value for money in a diverse, but relatively high-quality offer, but nowadays, the guidelines have disappeared. Consumers, ever more subject to an onslaught of advertising, consume whatever offer that is imposed upon them by a small number of multi-national corporations that reign over consumer markets. Individual consumers are now practically obliged to frequently renew disposable or soon-to-be-obsolescent equipment produced in low-wage countries where there is often little concern for either human rights or the environment.
According to a 2012 UNICEF report, 322 million children (23% of 5-17 year olds worldwide are involved in economic activities.
Among them, 215 million work in unacceptable conditions, and over 110 million of them are subject to unspeakably bad conditions.
If one recognizes that when parents are paid a living wages children are less likely to be obliged to work and can instead pursue and education, then the existence of a living wage is crucial to children’s well-being.
By the same token, we watch helplessly as thousands of migrant children and adults drown in their attempts to immigrate; they are often fleeing countries where the wages of those who produce items intended for the large consumer markets barely allow them to survive.
We must work towards the regulation of a global labor market, which, in the entire history of humanity, has never involved so many people in slavery-like conditions in emerging and developing nations, or so many poor or unemployed people in developed ones.
AN END TO SLAVERY
On 2 December 2014, International Day for the Abolition of Slavery, a meeting co-organized by the Vatican and the Global Freedom Network, initiated by the Australian millionaire and mining magnate Andrew Forrest, obtained the signatures of 16 major religious leaders who jointly pledged to work together to “end slavery by 2020.”Yet the declaration does not seem to have involved a joint strategy. Thus one can legitimately fears that, like so many conferences and conventions organized since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, the resolutions will not have any concrete effects. In addition, the movement’s website, which, it was hoped, would attract the support of a major proportion of the world’s population, seems to be stagnating at about 11,000 signatures on Facebook and just over 2,400 on Twitter. Unfortunately, it seems that the hoped-for global mobilization has not fallen into place.
MOBILIZING MORAL, RELIGIOUS AND ECONOMIC AUTHORITIES
Published in September 2013, the Global minimum wage to abolish slavery project has attracted attention from world-renowned economists; among them, several who teach at prestigious American universities have contacted us to express their interest.
Although it is of a clearly different nature and never really came to fruition, as of January 2014, the American minimum wage project had gathered the support of 600 economists.
The religious leaders who you brought together, as well as a great number of economists around the world, are among those who could support the “International Convention for Minimum Wage ”that we propose. Some of them could participate in it.
Both developing and developed nations could see this convention as an opportunity to restore peace and stability to a world on the verge of social collapse.
This would perhaps convince the USA and the EU –the two principal consumer markets, the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) to seriously consider the necessity and ineluctability of a global minimum wage.
Global minimum wage to abolish slavery
Letter to :
- Barack OBAMA, president of United States of America,
- Jean Claude JUNCKER, president of European Commission,
- Robert AZEVEDO, director-general of WTO,
- Guy RYDER, director-general of ILO,
- and all heads of state in emerging and developing countries.
A global minimum wage to abolish slavery by Francis JOURNOT
"The eradication of working conditions close to slavery begins with a decent wage"
A LIVING WAGE CAN BE A TOOL FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
The International Labour Organization (ILO) and many NGOs (non-governmental organizations) regularly attest to the alarming work and safety conditions for workers in low-wage countries. But the protocols signed by retailers and local industries have shown themselves to be insufficiently binding and have not significantly improved the lives of people who are too often reduced to slavery.
Each year, hazardous health situations and accidents continue to kill thousands of workers. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that contractors will agree to give up even a minor share of their profits in order to advance workers’ safety. According to them, this responsibility belongs to the subcontractors, who generally argue that they are unable to fund improvements without the financial involvement of major retailers.
British trade-union leader Guy Ryder has been the Director General of the ILO since October 2012 (photo MEDEF)
Therefore, it is time to consider a different approach: better-paid workers with greater access to information, as well as to advice and legal assistance to protect and enforce their rights. If we, western consumer markets, agree to help employees in low-wage countries obtain a living wage for their work, we will also be providing them with tools that will allow them to improve their work, health and safety conditions. There is no doubt that they will know how to engage in a dialogue with their respective companies and countries that would lead to the eradication of living conditions akin to slavery.
A MEANS TO FIGHT AGAINST CHILD LABOR
A convention against child labor was ratified by 174 countries in 1999. Yet 322 million children – representing 23% of the world’s population aged 5 to 17 – are engaged in economic activities. Of those, 215 million work in unacceptable conditions, and more than 110 million are subjected to extremely harsh working conditions. If parents were better paid, many children would not be obliged to work and could get an education.
ADOPTING A MORE GLOBAL VIEWPOINT
In the context of globalization, the situation of workers in developing countries must be approached with a global vision. One can always point the finger at the danger and risks in specific jobs and industries, or the extreme exploitation of workers in certain countries, but that exposes them to outsourcing production to other regions where workers may be even less well-protected.
The 2013 Rana Plaza building collapse in Dhaka cost 1,133 people their lives and injured 1,900 more workers, of whom 1,000 women and men had serious injuries, often requiring amputation. Since then, several textile firms – probably more concerned with their own image than with the plight of Bangladeshi workers – have transferred production to other countries in Asia or Africa. On September 12, 2013, an attempt to compensate the Rana Plaza victims was organized in Geneva under the auspices of the ILO. Only 9 out of the 29 brands involved bothered to attend. The absentees included AUCHAN, BENETTON, C & A, CARREFOUR, MANGO and the textile group INDITEX (with capital of almost €70 billion), which owns ZARA, MASSIMO DUTTY, BERSHKA, OYSHO, PULL & BEAR and STRADIVARIUS, among other brands.
In order to put a stop to this insane and murderous cycle, perhaps it is time to try to come up with a more effective response. Most Western consumers would welcome the establishment of global wage standards.
Nevertheless, the protection, rights, safety and health of citizens is the responsibility of each nation, which remains sovereign, even when there are clear lacks. Moreover, the immediate establishment of a living minimum wage for all employees in every developing country would, most often, be economically unfeasible.
Therefore, to provide long-lasting solutions to urgent and often dangerous situations, the key is to organize an international convention at which a mandatory minimum wage specifically for export work could be agreed upon, so as to allow for exchange to take place in a more fair and peaceful world.
AN INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT BETWEEN CONSUMER MARKETS AND LOW-WAGE COUNTRIES
The U.S.A. and the E.U. could, in collaboration with the ILO and within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO), invite all low-wage industrial countries to ratify an international convention.
In essence, this agreement would make paying manufacturing and service personnel in accordance with negotiated international standards a pre-requisite for exporting to the world’s two largest consumer markets. It would be necessary to collaboratively determine a figure that is high enough to raise the salary of many workers around the world, but also reasonable and moderate enough to be agreed to bythe largest possible number of exporting countries.
A discussion between the main consumer markets and the exporting countries group could be based on the following, which would, however, only be a first step towards broader wage standardization.
Brazilian diplomat Roberto AZEVEDO, who has led the WTO since September 2013, is the first Director General of the WTO to come from a developing nation (photo WTO)
- A minimum net monthly salary of $500 or €400 for workers producing goods or providing services for export mainly to the two largest consumer markets, the E.U and the U.S.A. This would concern countries in Asia, South America, Africa and Europe. European Union countries that do not have a legal minimum wage or where the minimum wage is below the recommended threshold should also comply with this rule in orderto export to other E.U, countries and to the U.S.A.
Moreover, the E.U. is itself home to tremendous inequalities: at €120 net per month, the Bulgarian minimum wage is the lowest in the E.U. while in Luxembourg, the minimum wage exceeds €1,500. It would be up to the European Commission to impose greater equity among its members. ¹
It would then be up to each participating nation to create legislation requiring both domestic and foreign companies to respect the provisions governing remuneration of personnel working for export that were agreed to at the convention.
On December 7th, 2013 in Bali, the WTO, with 157 ministers from Member States, signed a historic agreement liberalizing international exchanges. The agreement provides for a reduction of duties on exports from developing countries, and a simplification of customs procedures. Large corporations and financial markets may well turn out to be the main beneficiaries of this agreement. This time, the WTO, along with the ILO, could organize an international convention to defend enslaved populations. In addition, the reduction in customs expenses afforded by this agreement represents a decrease in costs to trans-national industrial groups, which could participate in financing a revaluation of remuneration for low-wage employees in developing and emerging nations.
MORE PAY IS POSSIBLE WITHOUT INCREASING CONSUMER PRICES
In just twenty years of globalization, fashion and luxury corporations, large retailers and brands have built huge financial empires. Each year they distribute tens of billions of euros to their shareholders at the expense of abused consumers and exploited workers. Thousands of exorbitant temples to consumerism now occupy millions of square meters on the most beautiful streets in the world.
But at the other end of the assembly line, salaries rarely reach $200 a month, and are often less than $120. On average, Bangladeshi women are among the lowest-paid workers in the world: as little as $40 for up to 250/300 hours of labor. In Ethiopia, some workers receiving as little as $28 a month also reported that they were beaten by the foremen.
Yet it would be perfectly possible to pay employees who produce goods for export correctly, in all industries, at no extra cost to the consumer. The decrease in profits would be in the vicinity of just 50 cents for most items, and only a few dollars for the most costly products. For example, the annual production of a Bangladeshi woman in the textile industry who is paid less than $600 a year contributes directly to revenues of up to $200,000 to $400,000 a year. These revenues come from consumer spending in large retail chains or low-, medium-, high-end and luxury shops. Similarly, the cost of labor for a smartphone rarely exceeds 2-5% of the sale price; for a pair of brand-name sneakers, it is between 1.5 and 3%; a luxury bag crafted in a few hours is sometimes sold for as much as $1,000 to $2,500.
The low-cost emerging countries allow retailers to acquire lavish stores of the most beautiful avenues in New York
ZARA store on 5th Avenue in NY, occupies 32,292 ft2 (3,000 m2) and cost 324 million dollars. The Inditex group has 6,000 stores around the world. / H & M, which already has 2,853 stores worldwide, continues to open new ones apace: 57,049 ft2 (5,300 m2) in Times Square; 41,979 ft2 (3,900 m2) on 5th Avenue, and 62,431 ft2 (5,800 m2) in Herald Center opening in winter, 2014.
A BARCODE TO INCREASE RESPECT FOR BOTH HUMAN RIGHTS AND NATURAL RESOURCES
Product traceability, represented by a barcode that would be required for export to the E.U. and the U.S.A., could facilitate the implementation of labor laws in exporting countries. What’s more, production of every single item has a direct impact on the state of the planet and the depletion of natural resources. Perhaps now is the time to begin to fight against consumerism, global warming and the destruction of the ecosystem. A barcode would give every item an identity. It would indicate the name of the contractor, manufacturer and sub-contractors, the economic conditions of employees involved in production, compliance of the substances used and their ecological footprint. This could be the beginning of true global resource and trade management. Moreover, it would be an effective tool in the fight against counterfeiting.
SO THAT EVERY COUNTRY CAN BUILD A HEALTHY ECONOMY
According to most Keynesian economists and those belonging to other schools of thought, raises, particularly in low wages, have a positive macro-economic effect on countries’ development. The practical effects are amplified all the more on the local economy in developing nations when their economies’ are based on agriculture, livestock and manufacturing consumer goods. Improving the wages of employees working for export would mechanically lead to raises in income for all other citizens in exporting countries.
Eventually, the increased consumption of necessities, whether food or material goods, would generate growth in the domestic market . Moreover, this could help build more independent, healthier economies that would be less oriented toward sever-increasing production, with its often-disastrous attendant effects on the environment.
CONSUMERS: HOSTAGES AND UNWITTING ACCOMPLICES
We, Western consumers, no longer agree to be unwitting accomplices held hostage to speculative economic policies that impose working conditions akin to slavery on women, men and even children 10 years old or younger. The promise of happy globalization which would benevolently create decent jobs in poor countries while providing cheaper goods to rich ones has hardly come true: working conditions in developing countries have barely improved since the beginning of globalization; unemployment in Western countries has mushroomed, and the prices of most consumer goods have steadily increased. It now appears that shareholders of major corporations are in fact the main beneficiaries of this fool's bargain.
Western contractors clearly share responsibility for this form of modern slavery with local industry. They must also sometimes deal with mafia-style organizations and corrupt officials or politicians. Therefore, the introduction of a statutory minimum wage for export would assist signatory countries in fighting against corruption, which deprives workers and citizens of the fruits of growth that should, by rights, be theirs. Governments could thus better fulfill their duty to protect their citizens. Membership in this international convention between consumer markets and developing countries could represent a historic opportunity for economic and social progress for each of the signatory nations.
¹ European Union:
We could consider the introduction of a minimum net monthly salary of €1,000 for workers from E.U. countries producing goods or providing services for export, as well as for employees posted in any of the 28 European Union countries. Currently, some Polish and Portuguese construction workers in France, and Bulgarian and Romanian workers in the food industry in Germany, earn as little as €3 an hour. This minimum wage would apply to the 7 countries that do not currently have one (Germany (2017?), Italy, Denmark, Cyprus, Austria, Finland and Sweden), as well as to the 21 countries with a minimum wage that is below the €1,000 threshold (Romania, Bulgaria, Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Greece, etc.)
Minimum wages that exceed € 1,000 month net would continue to apply.Long-term, the idea would be to first consider aligning the minimum wage in the more-developed European nations with the French, British, Belgian, Irish, Dutch or Luxembourger minimum wage (ranging from €1,100 to 1,550), and eventually applying it to the entire European community.
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Protest in Argentina against ZARA for using slave, child labor - April 2013
Bangladesh slavery for H&M, LIDL and C&A - september 2013
Child slavery : Dangerous jobs in Thailand and Cambodia
ZARA's slave labor scandal in Brazil - 2012
"Incredible India" home to modern slavery - june 2013
Police raid Bengladesh "slave camp" - 2011
Prisons slaves in China, Slavery : A 21 st century evil - november 2013
Women of Masanjia labor camp - october 2013