Living Wage

What is a living wage and why is it important?

Although the right to a living wage is a universal human right, a huge part of the global workforce in food supply chains are paid wages they cannot survive on. The right to a living wage is part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, which states: ‘Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.’

The lack of living wages means that food workers are often forced to work long hours and that they are unable to provide for their needs, such as nutritious food, healthcare, clothes and housing. The workers who provide the food on our plates are often unable to feed themselves and their families. They live in poverty and they, and their children, have little chance of escaping this poverty cycle.

Moreover, poverty wages often lead to other human rights violations and poverty-related problems such as long working hours, child labour and health problems. Many workers are unable to stand up for their right to a living wage as their right to freedom of association is often not respected.

This is why Fairfood believes the failure to pay a living wage is one of the most pressing issues to be solved in our fight against poverty and hunger, as well as being one of the worst labour crimes committed against workers.

“What we earn is not enough. We have to buy our groceries on credit because it’s not enough at all” – Lahcen Moski, 38, married with one son, earns 60 DH a day (€5.37), which is lower than the minimum wage for agricultural workers in Morocco.

Minimum wage vs living wage

A minimum wage is not the same as a living wage. Most national governments have set minimum wages, but in many cases the minimum wage is not enough to live on. For example, the Moroccan agricultural minimum wage is set below the national poverty threshold for rural households. This means that food workers in many countries who receive only a minimum wage, live in poverty and cannot afford basic necessities, such as food and medicines.

What costs should a living wage cover?

A living wage is a wage that allows workers to cover their basic needs and those of their families. A living wage is different in every country, depending on the costs of living. Fairfood wants wages to be high enough so that workers can, at least, cover the following costs:

  • Sufficient nutritious food;
  • Decent housing with sufficient utilities (gas, electricity, water) and essential household goods;
  • Adequate clothing and footwear;
  • Access to education and healthcare;
  • Transport costs;
  • Means of communication;
  • Participation in sociocultural activities;
  • Childcare costs (especially important for single mothers)
  • Finally, workers should be able to save some money to prevent them from falling back into poverty if unforeseen events, such as sickness, occur.

The power of supermarkets

In our living wage campaign, we call upon supermarkets to ensure living wages to food workers in all their supply chains by 2020.

Most food products in the Global North are sold in supermarkets. Globally, supermarkets earn $4 trillion. The top five supermarkets in each European country control 50% of the grocery sector on average . Supermarkets consequently have tremendous power over their suppliers and, therefore, over the food system. When negotiating prices and terms of conditions with suppliers they use this power. Reality shows that price pressure from supermarkets is often transmitted all the way down the chain, leading to bad working conditions and low wages for food workers.

On paper, most European supermarkets have policies to ensure that workers in their supply chains are treated fairly. In practice, these policies often do not ensure that food workers are paid a living wage and the bitter reality for food workers is that they get paid poverty wages.

Supermarkets could potentially use their power in a different way. They have the power to ensure fair working conditions and living wages for their food workers. Supermarkets can implement changes and ensure food workers in all their supply chains are paid a living wage by 2020.

“I earn 300 baht per day and 56 baht for over time. There is no extra payment or bonus apart from overtime payment. They deduct 1000 baht per month; 15 baht per day for the Social Security (SSO), 250 baht for the ferry, etc. My real income is about 260 baht per day” – Ma Mya, shrimp worker in Thailand. A living wage should be at least 50% higher than the Thai legal minimum wage of 300 baht

How we work

Consumers should be able to trust that the food they eat has not been produced by workers who earn poverty wages. Fairfood advocates a living wage for all food workers in the global supply chains of supermarkets. We do this through the following methods:

  1. Talking with key supermarket chains to demand policy and practice changes with regard to workers’ wages in food supply chains. We are currently holding talks with Lidl, Jumbo, Plus, Aldi and Albert Heijn.
  2. Working with local partners on the ground to empower workers to voice their rights;
  3. Informing consumers on food sector abuses and ultimately campaigning publically against the supermarkets with the help of consumer.

Connection with Fairfood’s Fair Price Programme

The concept of a living wage for food workers is very similar to the concept of a fair price for smallholder farmers. Many smallholders supply to one buyer, creating a relationship akin to that between an employer and an employee; a living wage can only be paid to a worker if the farmer or factory owner secures a fair price. For more information on fair prices for smallholder farmers, please refer to our Fair Price Programme.