ActionAid has just published a booklet for workers and union organisers in the global garments industry, which focuses on productivity schemes.
In response to pressure from campaigners to ensure garment workers are paid a living wage, some clothing brands and retailers have brought in schemes to increase productivity in factories. The idea is that the cost savings made by making workers more productive can be used to fund higher wages.
The first point to make is that it’s highly questionable whether productivity schemes alone will be enough to boost workers’ pay up to living wage levels. They may get part of the way. But to ensure workers are paid a full living wage, brands and retailers also need to ensure that the prices they pay to factory suppliers cover the cost of a living wage, and actively support trade unions. Fashion brands and retailers are going ahead with these schemes anyway, so our booklet focuses on the risks that increasing productivity presents for workers. These include job losses, a faster pace of work, unrealistic production targets, less rest time, increased bullying by supervisors, and reduced health and safety.
The booklet suggests ways that workers can safeguard against these risks, and includes discussion points that can be used in workers’ education. A key message is that workers need to respond collectively to productivity schemes, and that if they are going to make any lasting progress, they will need to organise into a trade union to negotiate with employers. Unions and labour rights groups that have-day-to-day contact with garment workers told us they would find this booklet useful, and we hope it will support their efforts to defend workers’ rights and improve wages.