With Lessons from a Toddler, Fairtrade Chief Explains How Far the Journey to a Living Wage is

Fairtrade Netherlands’ Policy Officer, Karen Bouwsma, has taken an insider’s look at what is preventing faster progress towards a living wage, and finds that the behavioural patterns of toddlers and their parents may help provide some answers.
For those in Europe, they are familiar with Black Friday, the day of the year when everything is about the lowest price. Nice for the consumer, of course, but how does this focus on low prices relate to promises made by companies to work towards living wages in their supply chains?

Most of the people who produce our food or clothing still do not earn enough to live on: they do not get a living wage.

There is a reason for this. The corporate purse strings are still firmly tightened. Paying structurally more for products from the South in order to make a living wage possible on plantations hardly ever happens. In that respect, the work towards a living wage is still in its infancy.

Strange though it may seem, parallels can be drawn between the behaviour of toddlers and the phase in which many companies find themselves when dealing with a living wage. Let us explore this analogy some more.

What a toddler can teach

Life is not always easy for toddlers and their parents. The little ones suffer from tantrums, have difficulty playing together, take away toys from others, shout ”no!” or ”mine!”. The toddler’s own needs are front and centre that is clear.

Parents do their utmost to teach their children that playing together is good and that it is not just about ‘me’. All in all, it is quite a challenging phase for everyone involved. Many companies that state they are working towards a living wage are also in this phase.

 When we investigate why many of these companies do not yet pay a fair price for their goods, we see a surprising number of similarities with the behaviour of toddlers:

The ‘self-sufficiency’ barrier’: How difficult is it to admit out loud that the profit-driven focus on the lowest possible purchase price stands in the way of sustainable production? This focus does not enable suppliers, that is, the employers on plantations, to pay workers a living wage.

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