A Living Wage Might Be Our Best Shot At Saving The Planet

Our planet is awash with stuff. Stuff produced using energy provided by fossil fuels, in the main. Stuff that is made out of petroleum-based products. Stuff that uses up valuable and finite resources, such as fresh water and minerals. Stuff that requires pesticides and other harmful chemicals to grow and to process. Slowly but surely, all this stuff is stuffing up the planet.

Ironically, although most of this stuff is made to be disposable, the question of how it can be disposed of has never been addressed. Most of it doesn’t readily decompose, so stuff is piling up all around the world, creating health hazards for ourselves, future generations, and our planet.

Some of it can be recycled, but it costs so little to produce new stuff that it doesn’t make economic sense to reuse or recycle old stuff. You can’t make a profit out of recycling. For reusing/recycling to be effective, the recycled stuff would have to be given away for free.

The reason the new stuff is so cheap is simple. Workers are exploited from start to finish. From the mines and fields raw materials come from, to the factories it is produced in, to the ships it travels on, to the warehouses it is stored in and retail stores it is sold in. For example, the most recent Tear Fund report on the clothing industry found that there was greater transparency in terms of being able to trace the journey of their products, but aside from three small fair trade brands, no brand was able to claim that a living wage was paid to workers at all stages of production.

If workers were paid a living wage at all stages of production, products would be valued more. The focus would change from quantity to quality-based production. Consumers would expect their purchases to last for longer and want them repaired if they got broken. This would mean less wastage of resources, less energy used, and lower emissions. And reusing/recycling would become a viable option, leading to less waste to be disposed of.

There are many other things that need to be done to reduce emissions, but a living wage would be the easiest to implement in a hurry and the quickest way to influence the behaviour of both producers and consumers worldwide. It’s already part of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and arguably should have been made mandatory many years ago. Why should anyone have to sell their labour for less than a living wage?

Inconvenient as it is to the way we do business at the moment, a living wage for everyone, everywhere, as well as being every worker’s right, just might be our best shot at saving the planet.

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