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