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Study: Garment workers in Eastern Europe, Turkey often earn less than in Far East

By Simone Preuss


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Image: Ivan Samkov / Pexels

According to recent figures by the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC), garment workers are on average poorer when they earn the applicable minimum wage. The share of the minimum wage as part of the EU poverty line fell from 65 percent to 61 percent between 2018 and 2021, despite nominal increases in minimum wages in many countries. In Eastern Europe and Turkey, garment workers often earn less than their colleagues in the Far East.

The discrepancy between the minimum wage and the European basic living wage, that is a wage with which families can meet their basic needs - like expenses for food, clothing, housing, mobility, hygiene, culture and recreation - is even more dramatic. There should also be money left over for small savings with which they can survive wage losses during the pandemic and inflation, for example.

Only one fourth of living wage paid in Eastern Europe

According to calculations by the Clean Clothes Campaign, garment workers in Eastern Europe and Turkey receive on average only a quarter of a living wage. Depending on the country, the basic living wage for Eastern Europe is between 734 (around 619 British pounds/ 755 US dollars) and 1,558 euros (around 1,314 British pounds/ 1,602 US dollars) per month.

In real terms, however, the statutory minimum wage in Serbia in 2021 was only 275 euros per month, which corresponds to a quarter of the basic living wage of 976 euros per month for the country, while in Bulgaria it was a fifth, in Ukraine a quarter and in Moldova only a seventh.

“Even countries that are no longer low-wage countries, such as Slovakia, Poland or Hungary, have a minimum wage that covers only one third of a living wage - a ratio that is also standard in Asia,” says the Clean Clothes Campaign in a statement.

CCC joins Good Clothes, Fair Pay initiative

It has therefore joined the European citizens' initiative Good Clothes, Fair Pay, which advocates for EU legislation that prevents starvation wages and calls on the EU Commission to propose legislation obliging companies in the clothing and footwear industry to pay living wages in their supply chains.

“European companies should be pioneers in human rights and climate protection and for this we need clear legal requirements - a strong supply chain law that leaves no room for loopholes,” says Gertrude Klaffenböck, coordinator of the Clean Clothes Campaign in Austria.

“Especially for fashion brands still ordering in Ukraine, the basic living wage is an orientation on how they can currently meet their due diligence obligations. With our latest calculations for Europe, trade unions, civil society and the EU Parliament now have a basis on which they can demand a legally binding consideration of living wages in supply chains - also in Europe,” adds Bettina Musiolek from the CCC.

Clean Clothes Campaign
garment workers
Living wage