A Decent Standard of Living for All

The Rainforest Alliance believes that workers around the world should be paid enough money to provide a decent life for themselves and their families.

That’s why we co-founded the Global Living Wage Coalition (GLWC), a group of NGOs working with two leading researchers to identify how much money workers need to afford a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. Because costs can vary greatly within a single country, these calculations—all based on objective, rigorous research—are location-specific, and take into account differences between rural and urban areas. The GLWC, which produces these estimates, helps its members coordinate implementation efforts; it also shares its research publicly in order to support efforts aimed at improving worker wages.

Women cocoa farmers

What is a global living wage?

The GLWC drew from more than 60 existing living wage descriptions to arrive at this succinct definition: “A global living wage is remuneration received for a standard workweek by a worker in a particular place sufficient to afford a decent standard of living for the worker and her or his family.”

What are the basic needs that a living wage should cover?

The elements of a decent standard of living include food, water, housing, education, health care, transportation, clothing and other essential needs, including provision for unexpected events.

How does the GLWC determine what a living wage should be for different countries?

Researchers determine living wages not only for different countries, but for different areas within countries, since the cost of living can vary greatly within a single country, and from rural to urban settings. Our researchers base food-cost estimates on a low-cost, nutritious diet that meets World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations on calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients, incorporating local food costs into their calculations. (This is more rigorous than other methods which ensure only a certain number of calories.) Housing costs are estimated using NGO and national standards for decency (e.g. dwellings that have permanent walls, waterproof roofs, electricity, water, and sanitary toilet facilities). Once researchers arrive at the total cost for one person to have a decent life, they multiply that by the number of people in a family of typical size for the area, then add a small margin for unexpected events such as illnesses and accidents.

Who created the methodology used for these calculations?

Living wage experts Richard Anker (formerly of ILO) and Martha Anker (formerly of WHO) spent more than 15 years testing and perfecting various aspects of this methodology. The Anker Methodology has catalyzed global action on living wages and has been used to estimate living wages in rural, urban, and peri-urban areas around the world.

Does the GLWC implement the living wage?

No, the coalition produces the calculations, or benchmarks. It supports efforts to implement these benchmarks by sharing lessons learned through its website and through collaborative private- and public-sector forums.

Farmer in Brazil
Photo credit: Andre Berlink

How many regions have living wage benchmarks so far?

The GLWC has completed 22 benchmarks across 20 countries, with additional benchmarks in progress or planned.

Is the Rainforest Alliance using these benchmarks in its work on the ground?

Absolutely. The Rainforest Alliance is collaborating, for example, with banana farms, banana-trading and -buying companies, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH), and other sector actors to pilot living wage implementation mechanisms in Costa Rica and Belize. Like all GWLC members, the Rainforest Alliance has adopted the GWLC’s definition of a living wage, and this definition informs how we design and audit against living wage criteria in our sustainability standards. The Rainforest Alliance is also working with partners in coffee supply chains to understand the costs and opportunities in implementing a living wage, since we know that farms can’t always do it alone.

What are the main obstacles to achieving a global living wage?

The main obstacle is that employers can’t always implement a living wage alone—especially given the small margins in many of these businesses. The whole supply chain, as well as national governments, need to participate to make a living wage a reality.

How can we support a global living wage?

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People collecting dirty river water

Around the world, 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day.