I’ll get to considerations of a basic food budget in Lahore in a moment, but first a review of why I’m interested in the matter:
For a bit less than a month now, I’ve been considering the veracity of claims of CafePress that the Econscious brand shirts it sells are made produced by “sustainable organizations” in accordance with “fair trade practices.” In particular, I’m looking at production in one of the factories that supplies shirts to Econscious — a factory in Lahore, Pakistan. Econscious executives have proclaimed that “Econscious can prove fair labor practices in their factories verifed by 3rd party inspectors. I suggest you remove your article until econscious is given the opportunity to respond.”
Econscious has had three weeks to respond with proof of fair labor practices in their factory in Lahore, Pakistan… but I have not seen that proof. I’ve seen certification of organic processes, and I’ve seen “fair trade” certification of some seed cotton that an Econscious factory in another country buys, but no, I have not seen documentation of fair labor practices in the Lahore factory by an independent third party inspector. Two weeks ago, the President of Econscious told me he would be sending on audit reports on the factory in Lahore, Pakistan, and to his credit he did send me two documents for that factory. They are:
Until the leaders of Econscious produces public copies of the audits of their factories, as they said they’d do, these two documents are the closest thing to any public proof Econscious has provided to back up its claims (and CafePress’ claims) about the labor conditions of its apparel production.
I encourage you to read the documents carefully. I especially encourage you to read the description of pay reported to have been received by workers producing Econscious apparel at the Lahore, Pakistan facility during the winter of 2007-2008. In that factory, workers are reported to have been paid the minimum wage of 4600 Pakistan Rupees per month during the winter of 2007-2008, plus overtime. The average worker at that factory for Econscious took home PKR. 5344.75 (equivalent to US $89) in a month for an average of 222 hours of work (on average approximately 51 hours a week).
Is that level of pay a “fair labor” practice? Is it a “fair trade” for 51 hours of factory work every week? There are various aspects of “fair labor” and “fair trade” that have been established by groups such as the International Labor Organization and FLO International, but one aspect of them is raising wages up from the level of a minimum wage to the level of a “living wage”. Econscious has been selling its t-shirts for some years now… have the Pakistan producers of Econscious t-shirts gotten their “living wage”?
Well, what is a “living wage,” anyway? One way to answer that question is to ask what the stakeholders relating to industry in Pakistan industry themselves consider reasonable. On that score, Fair Trade producers and labor unions in Pakistan have articulated a much higher standard for pay: 18400 rupees a month and 12000 rupees a month, respectively. Are these wild and crazy standards for Fair Trade producers and the Pakistani labor movement to set? Well, no. They’re actually quite low compared to estimates of the cost of living by the Lahore University of Management Sciences, which tells its potential hires that the monthly cost of living in Lahore is 71,900 rupees a month. None of these standards for a “living wage” are met by the factory Econscious uses in Lahore, Pakistan.
A second way to figure what a “living wage” would be is to define it not by the subjective claims of people in Pakistan, but according to objective estimates of basic human needs. SA8000, an organization Econscious has itself referred to as definitive, defines “living wages” as wages that satisfy “basic needs.” “Basic needs” are further defined by the SA8000 Guidance Document as capable of sustaining 1/2 an average sized family with food, clean water, clothing, housing, transportation, schooling, health care, and a further undefined “discretionary income.”
In a living wage formula, one standard is that housing should cost no more than 30% of income. A UNHCR report on conditions in Lahore, Pakistan — one contemporaneous with available pay reports — places the cost of living in a toxic, fly-infested slum with running sewage located downwind from a garbage incinerator at 7500 rupees a month. Even if two parents each work at the factory full-time (48 hours a week), housing costs in a fetid, toxic slum in Lahore during the winter of 2007-2008 would have cost 82% of the resulting monthly wage of 9200 rupees a month, leaving just 1700 rupees a month for food, clean water, clothing, transportation, schooling, health care, and discretionary income. That’s 1700 rupees a month for two adults to carry — 850 rupees apiece.
Let’s delve further into those monthly costs. The government of Pakistan provides statistics on food prices in Lahore, Pakistan for the fiscal year of 2006-2007. This was a time of rampant inflation, so we can assume that food costs were higher still during the winter of 2007-2008 — but to err on the side of caution, let’s go with the lower food prices for 2006-2007. The government of Pakistan also provided a caloric budget in the form of a food basket for its citizens on the basis of 2100 calories per day per adult:
Use those resources, do the math for an adult, multiplying out prices per day and multiplying by 30 days, and you’ll get somewhere between 780-800 rupees a month for food. Further assume that this adult has two children, but is only responsible for providing for one of them, and that child requires just 1500 calories a day, and you’ll end up with 1300-1350 rupees a month for food for this part of the “basic needs” budget.
On the factory scale used for that factory in Lahore, Pakistan, after a food budget for 1/2 a family and 1/2 of the cost of housing in a slum, that leaves no money left for a worker to provide clean water, clothing, transportation, schooling, health care, and discretionary income for half a family. Worse, it leaves the factory worker — not providing for any of these additional costs — in 500-550 rupees of debt.