Report on the Living Wage Meeting
Approximately 45 guests from different European countries attended the meeting ‘Living Wage' on Tuesday afternoon 26 June in the context of the presentation of the similarly named report by Berenschot International. The meeting was held at the Berenschot offices in Utrecht.
The parties represented at the meeting included private sector companies, such as Heineken, De Bijenkorf and H&M. The Dutch and German government and organisations, such as UTZ Certified, the Fair Wear Foundation, the European Union and various NGOs, including Social Accountability International were also represented. Trade unions such as FNV Mondiaal and CNV Internationaal were also present.
This diverse group first listened to the presentation of the ‘Living Wage in International Supply Chains' report, which was presented to a representative of the Dutch government by a team of Berenschot colleagues. Following this, the attendees were given an opportunity to direct questions to the authors and commissioning parties of the report. This resulted in a discussion of the responsibilities of government versus the responsibilities of the business community in terms of stimulating a living wage in developing countries. According to many attendees, the consumer is also an important link in the whole.
Living Wage in Actual Practice
Many representatives and companies expressed a strong desire to work on a living wage for workers in factories abroad that are suppliers to many Western companies, but how to shape and execute these plans was the subject of heavy debate. Among the topics discussed was the importance of profit margins and, for example, the extent to which companies are responsible for the living wage in factories that are not owned by them, but with which they do business.
One example that was given is the situation of a clothing factory in which employees were given more training and a higher wage. This resulted in a faster increase in production than the wage, as a result of which the cost per piece of clothing declined. Furthermore, one beverage producer was of the opinion that initiatives, such as reducing the tax paid by companies involved in living wage, are the wrong approach: ‘The payment of a living wage must not be rewarded by providing a company with a tax advantage. It is our collective responsibility.'
After the break guests were given an opportunity to listen to three speeches. The first was a speech by Iris van der Veken, who on behalf of the diamond company Rosy Blue is promoting a living wage in diamond factories. To ensure that trained personnel continues to work for Rosy Blue, the company not only pays a living wage, it also provides workers with safety training and schooling for their children.
Daniel Vaughan-Whitehead of the International Labour Organization in his speech emphasised the importance of an integral approach, among other things. ‘An isolated approach to the problem does not work,' he said. His opinion was shared by many invitees, who experienced the debates and working forms in particular as positive. As one representative of the textile industry put it: ‘There is certainly constructive debate here.' She considered it a positive thing that so many different parties had been invited to listen to the speeches and participate in the debate.
Berenschot is not the only one to organise this type of meetings. The German government organisation GIZ organises round table discussions with various parties to promote consultation and share ideas in the area of living wage, according to the presentation made by Doris Laeer, a representative of this organisation.
Living Wage Workshop
Finally, the attendees were invited to attend a workshop focused on solutions. The first group spent time on developing a business case and the second group on an experiment in which pioneers in the area of living wage would hold a round table discussion about the feasibility of a living wage. The third group had free rein in terms of how they would want to promote the idea of a living wage.
The result of the first group was a lively debate. The second group expressed the desire to sit down with the relevant countries themselves as a means of bringing about change in the business sector, as well as in government layers. The third group produced a flip chart full of ideas in which collective consultation was the most important point. The afternoon concluded with a well-attended reception.