Garment worker wages in most top apparel-exporting countries have fallen in real terms over the last decade - with the exception of China, where wages more than doubled.  

The findings are included in a new report from the Center for American Progress and the Workers Rights Consortium, which examines garment worker wages in 15 leading apparel-exporting countries between 2001 and 2011.

And not surprisingly, trends in worker wages also seem to mirror shifts in the popularity of supplier countries.

In most cases - including Bangladesh and Cambodia where worker pay in among the lowest in the world - wages stagnated or declined over the ten-year period, it said.

The report 'Global Wage Trends for Apparel Workers,' also found a widening gap between prevailing wages - the wages paid in general to an average worker - and living wages.

"While these workers may not live in absolute poverty, they live on incomes that do not provide them and their families with adequate nutrition, decent housing, and the other minimum necessities of a humane and dignified existence," it said.

Measured in real terms, wages fell in five of the top ten apparel exporters to the United States: Bangladesh, Mexico, Honduras, Cambodia, and El Salvador.

Mexico registered the largest decline, seeing a 28.9% drop in workers' buying power - which coincided with the country falling from the US's top source of imported apparel in 2001 with nearly 15% of imports, to the fifth-largest clothing supplier in 2011 with a market share of slightly less than 5%.

Bangladesh and Cambodia, meanwhile, expanded their share of US apparel exports as wages declined 2.4% in Bangladesh and 19.1% in Cambodia.

In 2011 Cambodia and Bangladesh had the lowest prevailing monthly wages for straight-time work of any major apparel exporter to the US at around $70 and $50, respectively.

In the countries where real wages increased from 2001 to 2011, garment workers in India saw gains of 13%, averaging 1.3% per year in real terms. Indonesia saw an increase ?of 28.4%, and Vietnam saw an increase of 39.7%.

Only in China did real wages for apparel-sector workers increase at a rate that would lift workers to the point of receiving a living wage within the next decade, the research found.

Wages for Chines garment workers more than doubled in real terms by 129.4% - as the country more than tripling its US market share, from 10.2% in 2000 to nearly 38% in 2011

A key reason that salaries increased in China is that the government substantially increased the mandated minimum wage, in part in order to limit worker unrest.

But the report also points out that the industrial centres in China where workers benefited from these gains have already seen a loss of apparel production, as manufacturers have shifted their facilities, and buyers have shifted their orders, to lower-wage areas both within China and in other countries.

The report's authors are calling for "meaningful action" from governments, brands and retailers to raise minimum wages, pay fairer prices to factories, and give workers the freedom to form unions and bargain collectively.

Monthly real wage in 15 of the top 20 apparel exporters to the US, in 2001 currency:

 
Monthly real wage in 2001 currency
 
 
2001
2011
 
  LCU USD, PPP LCU USD, PPP Percent change
Bangladesh 2083 $93.67 2033.6 $91.45 -2.37%
Cambodia 51 $161.89 39.78 $126.26 -22.01%
China 480 $144.86 1076.57 $324.9 124.29%
Dominican Republic 2698 $293.52 2057.45 $223.83 -23.74%
El Salvador 162 $332.44 143.34 $294.14 -11.52%
Guatemala 1414.66 $397.62 1230.1 $345.75 -13.05%
Haiti 1014 $104.42 1502.99 $154.78 48.22%
Honduras 2514.83 $359.47 2294.53 $327.98 -8.76%
India 2019.55 $150.2 2281.27 $169.67 12.96%
Indonesia 421958 $134.9 583786.75 $186.64 38.35%
Mexico 4766 $755.14 3386.54 $536.57 -28.94%
• Mexico (Min Wage) 1258 $199.32 1297.31 $205.55 3.12%
Peru 487.5 $335.93 570.94 $393.43 17.12%
Philippines 4979 $249.25 4662.19 $233.39 -6.36%
Thailand 5748.5 $360.33 5378.25 $337.12 -6.44%
Vietnam 730167 $182.43 1019766.5 $254.78 39.66%

Source: Center for American Progress/Worker Rights Consortium.