In search of a living wage in Southeast Asia

Pages903-914
Publication Date02 October 2017
DOIhttps://doi.org/10.1108/ER-02-2017-0046
AuthorMichele Ford,Michael Gillan
SubjectHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
INTERNATIONAL
In search of a living wage in
Southeast Asia
Michele Ford
Sydney Southeast Asia Centre, University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia, and
Michael Gillan
Business School, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Australia
Abstract
Purpose Debates over the definition, processes and outcomes of minimum and livingwages are
heated and often politically contentious in garment-producing countries. Internationally, there have been
various initiatives to promote and support the implementation of a living wage for workers in labour-
intensive manufacturing, ranging from corporate-driven social responsibility and multi-stakeholder
initiatives to the long-standing living wage campaign of the global unions. One prominent regional
initiative is the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA). The purpose of this paper is to assess its reach and effect
in Southeast Asia.
Design/methodology/approach A living wage campaign is assessed with reference to Indonesia and
Cambodia, two important garment manufacturing countries in Southeast Asia. The paper draws on data
collected in interviews with garment manufacturers, brand representatives, trade unionists and labour NGO
activists, including members of the AFWA Steering Committee in Indonesia and Cambodia, complemented by
a systematic review of documents and reports produced by the AFWA.
Findings As the paper shows, despite a series of initiatives, the Asia Floor Wage has failed to gain
traction in Cambodia or Indonesia. This is so, the paper argues, because national economic, political and
institutional contexts are the primary drivers of the strategies and priorities of constituent organisations,
governments and industry stakeholders. In the absence of robust local and regional coalitions of trade
unions, efforts towards a common and coordinated regional approach to living wages are thus unlikely to
gain traction.
Originality/value To a large extent, the literature on the concepts and practices associated with the living
wage has focussed on developed rather than developing countries. This paper extends the literature by
providing a systematic examination of a transnational wage campaign in developing Asian countries.
Keywords Indonesia, Cambodia, Trade unions, Living wage, Minimum wage
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
The status of Southeast Asian countries as labour-intensive manufacturing hubs within
global supply chains has drawn international attention to their varying labour standards
and employment conditions. International concern over weak social protection and wages
for workers in labour-intensive manufacturing across the region is largely focussed on
global corporations that source from supplier firms in a region characterised by an evident
gap between the formal commitments of states to international labour standards and the
reality of their limited capacity and enforcement (Ford and Gillan, 2016). Attention to
wages and conditions are most animated in the garment and footwear sector because
of the high profile of co nsumer fashion and leisurewear brands, debate over whether
the industry helps or hinders sustainable economic development in nations that are
reliant on it for export revenues, links to questions of gender justice given the
Employee Relations
Vol. 39 No. 6, 2017
pp. 903-914
Emerald Publishing Limited
0142-5455
DOI 10.1108/ER-02-2017-0046
Received 28 February 2017
Revised 7 July 2017
Accepted 17 July 2017
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
www.emeraldinsight.com/0142-5455.htm
© Michele Ford and Michael Gillan. Published by Emerald Publishing Limited. This article is
published under the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) licence. Anyone may reproduce,
distribute, translate and create derivative works of this article (for both commercial and
non-commercial purposes), subject to full attribution to the original publication and authors. The full
terms of this licence may be seen at http://creativecommons.org/licences/by/4.0/legalcode
903
In search of a
living wage in
Southeast Asia

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