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AFWA urges better wages for Asia's garment workers

Global clothing brands must take responsibility for the millions of workers in Asia who are poorly paid by suppliers and ignored by governments, said a campaigner for higher wages in the region, ahead of an International Labour Organization (ILO) conference.

Asia accounts for more than 60 per cent of the world's garment production, with the industry employing more than 15 million people directly, most of them women.

Workers deserve a living wage because the minimum wage set by most Asian countries is inadequate to keep them out of poverty, said Anannya Bhattacharjee, a coordinator with the Asia Floor Wage Alliance (AFWA), a supply chain lobby group.

According to Bhattacharjee, the complexity of the supply chains is often used as an excuse for brands having no control over paying a living wage. But brands have so much leverage with governments and suppliers, and they have the power to set prices, she said.

Higher wages in China, the world's largest clothing exporter, are driving brands worldwide to seek cheaper alternatives in countries such as Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. Suppliers in these countries are under enormous pressure to reduce costs and produce garments as quickly as possible.