European Conference on Living Wages in Berlin
Living wages, i.e. wages that actually secure people's livelihoods, were the topic of a European conference that took place from November 25 to 26, 2013 at the Berlin offices of Germany's Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Fair wages have been the subject of human rights accords, international conventions and corporate social responsibility guidelines. The main focus of the conference will be on how undertakings to pay decent and fair wages can be rolled out in particular in developing countries. The conference was hosted jointly by the BMZ, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands and the Round Table Codes of Conduct, a multi-stakeholder forum based in Germany.
Enlarge image German Development Minister Dirk Niebel (© picture-alliance/dpa) Proceedings were opened by Germany's Development Minister Dirk Niebel. Speaking before the start of the conference, Niebel said, "As is the case with all human rights, the right to a decent wage will not materialise by itself. Rather, it will need the backing of governments acting in accordance with the rule of law, enterprises taking their responsibilities seriously and civil society organisations committed to improving people's lives in order to make it a reality. Only if we all act together, will we be able to achieve sustainable development – and, as a vital part that, better working conditions. Paying people fair wages is probably the best and most effective way of directly reducing poverty."
Against this background, the Round Table Codes of Conduct got together with the BMZ several years ago in order to look into the concept of living wages. The Government of the Netherlands, too, has been working on this concept for some time. Lilianne Ploumen, the Netherlands' Minister for Trade and Development, and Germany's Development Minister Dirk Niebel subsequently decided to join forces to push this concept ahead and also bring it onto the international political agenda.
"When it comes to a living wage, not only production countries but also we European countries have a responsibility on our side of the international supply chain. I will do my utmost to make sure that living wages will be realised. I will promote this cause at all relevant international fora: EU, OECD, UN and WTO. European businesses, too, in cooperation with NGOs and trade unions, should engage and commit themselves for living wages in production countries. Therefore, more cooperation and joint action is needed, as has been happening for safe working conditions in Bangladesh. For too long, competition for the lowest prices has come at the expense of safe labour conditions and fair wages," said Minister Ploumen.
One of the main objects of the conference therefore was for all participants to exchange experiences and to network, to discuss possible activities and to reach a declaration of intent. A further aim is for the participants to develop joint follow-up projects.
Enlarge image What's in it for me? (© dpa/pa) In the run-up to the conference, Gudrun Kopp, Parliamentary State Secretary to the Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, said: "We would like the conference we are organising in Berlin to provide an international forum for exchanges between various existing initiatives and to bring together a maximum of actors to build a coalition to deliver living wages. If nothing else, the recent tragic disasters in the textiles industry in Bangladesh have shown once more how important it is to ensure that decent working conditions prevail along the entire supply chain. Living wages that enable people to live in dignity make up an essential part of such decent conditions."
Living wages are being looked at as part of an effort to bring social standards to supply chains. Two other closely related questions are freedom of association and collective bargaining in developing partner countries. The BMZ has for some time been supporting partnerships with the private sector, the object of which is to enhance dialogue between the management and the workforce in supplier businesses.·
Minister Niebel and his Dutch counterpart Ploumen met prior to the conference to hold bilateral talks on current issues of development cooperation. One of the topics they discussed was the idea of launching a joint initiative with the private sector to help improve the situation of women textile workers in Bangladesh.