By Jessica Grillo, Senior Manager, Livelihoods, Rainforest Alliance
This opening line of Richard Anker and Martha Anker’s new book entitled, Living Wages Around the World: Manual for Measurement” encapsulates the tremendous contribution that this work makes to the centuries-long dialogue on living wages, which is a meaningful issue for companies worldwide. The book, which represents the culmination of decades of research and practical experience by its authors, describes a new methodology to measure a decent but basic standard of living in different countries. Commissioned by the Global Living Wage Coalition(GLWC) – a coalition for six standard systems, including SAN/Rainforest Alliance — and published earlier this year by Edward Elgar, this manual offers what is to date the most detailed, rigorous, and publicly-available step-by-step methodology for establishing living wage benchmarks – often called the Anker Methodology.
In April, GLWC hosted an event for the book at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School attended by stakeholders from the public and private sectors, academia, and civil society, that featured a panel discussion with sector leaders on living wage implementation. The panel included Victor Prada from FAO and the World Banana Forum, Steven Heaslip from Laurelton Diamonds (a subsidiary of Tiffany & Co.), Luna Lee from Eileen Fisher, and Richard and Martha Anker as members of the Wages Committee for the Malawi Tea 2020 project – each of whom reflected on their experience using third-party living wage benchmarks, established using the Anker Methodology, to drive living wage action from within companies and within multi-stakeholder forums.
All of the panelists provided important perspectives on the challenges and opportunities inherent in living wage implementation. Both Laurelton Diamonds and Eileen Fisher must be commended for their open sharing of specific lessons learned from the experience of their own companies. These presentations underscored how challenges and opportunities vary from company to company, based on several factors including how supply chains are integrated and how pricing mechanisms work in different sectors. They also highlighted the rewards. As Steven Heaslip explained, decent wages are necessary for a decent lifestyle and the continued development of workers. He illustrated this point by describing the visible effects of paying a living wage on the workforce, from the perspective of one of their factories in Vietnam, where workers who previously arrived on rickety bicycles now arrive more safely and quickly on scooters and wearing helmets.
A resounding message coming out of this event is that living wage is a process. We now have a clear methodology for establishing living wages in a particular geography. The benchmarks themselves eliminate ambiguity and provide a clear and transparent goal. Still, unless the living wage is very close to the current wages paid, no company should be expected to realize living wages across their supply chain overnight. To do so would be inadvisable as we still have much to learn about the wider economic impacts of large, fast shifts in wages. What is absolutely necessary, however, for the health of communities and businesses alike, is commitment to a living wage path, calculation of wage gaps, and thoughtful, transparent plans for implementing living wages. The plans and the processes must involve consultation with workers themselves, and their union representatives.
Living wage as a process is a clear tenant of the 2017 SAN Standard, adherence to which is a requirement of Rainforest Alliance Certification. Included in the set of criteria under Principle 4: Improved Livelihood and Human Wellbeing, before criteria on the payment of living wages, is the requirement that farm management and group administrators document and implement a living wage plan, to progress towards payment of living wage wherever living wage benchmarks are available (based on the Anker methodology).
A key tenet of the Rainforest Alliance is to help ensure sustainable livelihoods. Living wage is an important part of this journey. Living Wages Around the World is the road-map. We are all travelling companions. And the living wage benchmarks, based on the Anker methodology, are the first stop on the road to decent work.
Note: To read more about the event, perspectives from panelists, and the decades of work of Richard Anker and Martha Anker, please read the ISEAL blog: https://www.isealalliance.org/online-community/blogs/anker-methodology-for-estimating-living-wages-published. “Living Wages Around the World: Manual for Measurement” can be found here: http://www.e-elgar.com/shop/living-wages-around-the-world. The GLWC has released benchmark reports for Brazil, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Kenya, the Dominican Republic, Malawi, Bangladesh, India and South Africa. Additional benchmarks are underway or scheduled for release in India, Vietnam, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Ghana, and China. To access all published reports and learn more about the GLWC please visit www.iseal.org/livingwage. Sign up for updates as new benchmarks are released here.