Wage Level for Garment Workers in the World (updated in 2017)



Statistics from the Public Radio International (PRI) show that garment workers in many parts of the world earn much less than the national average. Of the twenty-one countries investigated by PRI, the monthly wage for garment workers range widely from $1,864 (USA) to $194 (Sri Lanka).

However, a higher wage level in absolute term does not necessarily mean a more decent pay. For example, while garment workers in the US apparently earn much more than their peers in other parts of the world, the wage level nevertheless was only 51 percent of the U.S. national average wage. Likewise, while garment workers in Honduras earn only $650 each month, this amount was approximately 107 percent of the national average wage in the country.

For more information about the wage level for garment workers around the world, please explore the Fair-fashion Quiz created by PRI.

Please also see Minimum Wage Level for Garment Workers in the World (Updated in December 2020)

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

63 thoughts on “Wage Level for Garment Workers in the World (updated in 2017)”

  1. I think it is very interesting to see the wages of factory workers increasing, especially in the U.S. because factory workers have always been known to have horrible pay. I think that it is misleading though because although their wages have increased and are higher compared to other countries, the cost of living in the the U.S. is much higher than these other developing countries. Also, as mentioned, their wage was only 51% of the national wage in the U.S. as compared to over 100% in other countries which just further shows that U.S. workers have much different standards and context when evaluating the value of the money they are making working in a factory. As stated in the some of the articles we have been assigned, factory workers in developing countries are very content with their jobs and their wages because they are directly helping develop their economies by producing these products and exporting them to the U.S.

    1. good thoughts! So why do you think even in the US, garment workers are paid much lower than the national average? something wrong here or is it just a reflection of the supply and demand condition in the job market?

  2. When I first looked at the charts, I thought it was very good that the US had the highest wages. After reading further, I found it very interesting to learn that even though this number appears to be very good, they still earn less than many other jobs in the US. This showed me just how comparing countries in this way shows how different their economic situations are.

  3. I think this is a very interesting point about how a higher wage level does not equate to a more decent pay. It raises the question of what is “fair”. With U.S. earning more money, but only 51% of the national average compared to Honduras workers earning 107% of their national average, it questions if U.S. garment workers should be getting paid more. Ultimately though we must take in account other economic factors and consider why this is the case. The United States has such a developed economy with a wide range of jobs that it seems to make sense for garment workers to receive that amount of the national average.

  4. It is interesting that most of the countries are from Asia. You can see the dollar value of some countries are high but the cost of living of the country may also relatively high so we might not consider it is “high”. For example, US has the highest minimum monthly wage but the cost of living is probably much higher than that of China.

    1. I agree. I think that though the US has the highest monthly wage, you have to think about whether or not that wage is a fair or living wage. The same with other countries — though their wage seems absurdly low compared to our standards, that may be an amount that allows them to live comfortably in the environment that they’re in. However, I do think that just because a wage allows a person to buy food and provide housing for themselves, that doesn’t mean that they are being paid fairly for their work. If a person sits at a sewing machine all day long, sits in horrible conditions, does not get compensated for overtime, and does not get a proper amount of breaks throughout the day, then they are likely not getting the pay they deserve either, and this is the sad reality that exists in many factories that brands we know and love source their garments from.

  5. I was shocked to discover that a higher wage level does not mean a better pay. I find it very unfair that garment workers earn much less that an average wage. I believe that there is something wrong here since it is even happening in the U.S. Many people are in need of jobs but they cannot work jobs that pay them unfairly. For the level of work employers are performing, something needs to change in order for them to get the wages they deserve.

  6. It is shocking to see how big the difference is in the range for garment worker pay across the nations. This is just another way that the textile and apparel industry can be looked at as unfair, especially to the LDCs. It is important to note, however, that the wages received by workers is more of a reflection on the nation as a whole, not just the industry.

  7. It was interesting seeing how the US has such a high wage level, but that does not mean it equates to more decent pay. Usually when I think of a nation with high wages and decent pay, I think of the US as a thriving nation, guaranteed with decent pay. I do not believe that this wage level/ decent pay case in the US is due to the workers being treated unfairly. The economy here is rapidly growing, the demand for garment workers is low and most garments are sourced from other countries because it’s much cheaper. Also, as time goes on a higher education level is becoming standard, so these jobs are scarcely needed.

  8. I found it so interesting to compare the charts of the wage level and then the wage level as a percentage of the average income. This is important to do because the cost of living is very different in certain places, so what seems like a low amount to us could be on the higher end for other people. I would be interested in seeing a graph that compared wage level with cost of living. In places like Honduras, is a factory job a high paying job or are other people even more underpaid? or both? Regardless, this is a very good example of why we should not look too deep into one statistic, because it often does not tell the whole story.

  9. I think it is very interesting to see that although U.S. garment workers make a much higher wage than garment workers in developing countries, their wage is lower then the U.S. average wage. Although this is very interesting, I think it makes a lot of sense! In the scale of job salaries in the U.S., garment workers make much less than workers in other jobs, such as jobs that require more education. In developing countries, working in a factory is much more common, therefore it makes sense that garment workers’ wages would be aligned with the average wage. Honduras and Guatemala are two countries whose garment workers’ wages are close to, if not higher than, the average wage level. I am wondering why these two countries are so close to the average wage level, far above all other countries?

  10. After looking at the charts above, it was no surprise to me to see USA first in highest monthly wages. From learning about the working conditions in Bangladesh, this would make sense personally. Areas such as Bangladesh depend immensely on these factory jobs and most of them support there entire family with their income. What I found interesting was to see the wages as a percent of National Average. Seeing how much lower Honduras was than USA in monthly wages, compared to where it being 107% in national average wage was shocking. Sometimes it slips my mind that just because a wage is higher, the cost of living is much higher in many other areas such as the USA. It is crazy to think that the wage amount would almost even out after we look at things such as that cost of living. It can almost be seen as how some areas in the USA have a higher cost of living then others. You can’t compare a house size in New York, compared to one in the south. Taxes and cost of living is much more expensive in NY, so just because a house is smaller does not mean it cost less than the bigger one in South Carolina. Just like you can’t compare a wage number in Honduras compared to USA.

  11. I am very interested to know what workers are paid in the apparel field. I feel as though people who work in the apparel manufacturing world are seen as unskilled which I find very strange. Finding someone in America with the skill to sew is becoming more and more rare, however workers who are creating clothing are not highly valued. With the majority of these countries paying laborers less than half the countries average, I feel that there is an extreme disconnect between the consumer and clothing. Potentially if there was more transparency and understanding of the global nature of apparel there would be more respect shown to these laborers.

    1. I agree, Morgan! It is very interesting to see the value of skilled workers with the ability to sew in the United States versus other countries! Furthermore, it is crazy to compare the the wage of garment workers in developing countries as a percent of the national average. When we look at the monthly minimum wage for a garment worker in Bangladesh, for example, and think it is so low but then compare it to the national average and they are actually make 65% of the national average. This goes to show how much garment workers are valued in these countries!

  12. As I was looking at this article and chart I was shocked to see how much of a difference the wage levels can be in different countries. While it does make sense in our industry that the pay for workers in LDC’s is lower, I still find it be an unfortunate part of our industry that remains unfair. As stated in other comments, I agree that there is a huge “disconnect between the consumer and clothing” and as a student going into the industry, I constantly wonder if wages would increase/ prices of clothing would increase if there was more awareness of the unfair working conditions and pay to the consumer.

    1. Good thinking. In your view, what should be a “fair” wage level for garment workers? Can countries at different development stage reaches an agreement? Or should policy intervene in setting a “fair wage” or rather it should be left to the market to decide.

  13. It is interesting to learn that a higher wage level does not necessarily mean higher pay because this is something that you’d think the opposite. It was also crazy to learn that there are many parts of the world that earn less than the national average. This is very concerning to hear about because unemployment rates are high and although there are low paying jobs for people to get it is never enough to help support themselves. With low wages being so prevalent around the world, there has to be something done. This also leads me to think about the unfair working conditions that these workers have to go through, but still get little pay. I always wonder if people are aware of these unfortunate ways.

  14. When looking at these stats and graphs, I found that although it is horrible that these workers are being paid little to no money for a job that requires a crazy amount of physical hard labor, I have to say that I wasn’t surprised at these numbers. In areas like China and Vietnam, where most people outsource their work to, their workers are being paid the least. This is most likely due to the fact that paying their workers this crazy small sum of money allows them to have low labor costs, making them more desirable for large companies to use their services. I was a little shocked about the US because although their pay was comparably much higher than the Asian countries, that isn’t exactly a living wage here. However, many people in the US are living in poverty because a small percentage of jobs actually pay enough to have a comfortable living wage, and many of those jobs require a college degree. I just think that in an environment like the US where a college degree is basically needed to live comfortably, people forget about the other jobs that are attainable without a degree, like a factory worker.

  15. I found the comparison of these two graphs interesting. Specifically how the minimum monthly wage in the U.S. in the highest, but it is only 51% of the national average wage. I think this is because the wage that U.S. workers receive may be high compared to some other countries, but in terms of the US’s standard of living, it is difficult for U.S. workers to have a comfortable standard of living based on that wage. I also think it is due to supply and demand of the market. I don’t think their is a large demand for US workers in the industry, in comparison to some other countries. These graphs also raise an ethical question regarding fair labor practices in LDC’s like Sri Lanka because of the low wages shown on the graph.

  16. The charts above gave me a really good idea of other countries wages, as I had previously assumed the US would have the highest monthly wages. One thing I found to be interesting is that in Mexico, the garment industry makes up a good portion of the national average wages, but the monthly wage is so low. I know Mexico is not nearly as developed as the US, but it is interesting to me that the US choses to so closely associate themselves (in NAFTA) with a country who is paying their workers so poorly.

  17. It’s very interesting to look at the difference between the wages in the U.S. and the wages in Sri Lanka, but like others have said this doesn’t mean that the U.S. is making that much more in relation to other jobs in the U.S. The most beneficial would be garment workers in Honduras who make about $1,200 less than U.S. workers but 107% of the national average wage in the country. This means that the workers can afford to live in their area without struggling whereas in the U.S. the cost of living is so much higher than the pay grade of the workers. Looking at the charts puts these wages into perspective and shows that looking at more than one comparison can show how unequal the ratios can be.

  18. It is interesting to see the wages of garment factory workers relative to the national average. Throughout this course, we learned that factory workers overseas are paid very little compared to what American workers make. However, the wages of factory workers in foreign countries is rarely ever compared to the national average. So it is shocking to see that some garment workers in Asia are actually making more than workers in the US when compared to the national average. It is an interesting fact that a higher wage does not correlate to a higher pay. In my opinion, factory workers across the globe should be paid equally relative to the national average because they play an essential role in the global supply chain of the fashion industry.

  19. I found the comparison of these two graphs very interesting. It is viewed by many that factory workers in other countries are underpaid, which some very well may be, however according to the charts it is actually not the case. While factory jobs in the United States are not considered a very “skill” required opportunity and therefore does not receive much pay. But in other countries the same jobs are actually on the higher end of salaries. It just goes to show the difference in economy and culture depending on where you are in the world.

  20. It is important to note the economy of the country that these workers reside in. There are many developing countries with workers making much less than those of the United States that are able to provide for themselves and their family. Many parts of these countries have people who would give up anything to work in these factories. While American workers make more than some of these developing countries, some of these workers around the world can actually make a decent living given the cost of housing and food in their country. Food, living expenses and clothing all cost much more in the United States than in Sri Lanka for example, and therefore everything is relative to their country.

  21. I think it was very helpful to look at these charts when discussing wages because the stereotypical idea that higher wages equal more decent pay is obviously not the case here. While it is easy to assume that because factory workers make significantly less if they are in countries such as Vietnam or Indonesia, it is important to keep in mind the current economic climate there. Comparing their wages to American wages is not an accurate representation of their actual pay. Additionally, factory jobs in comparing countries have different representations as people in America do not rely on these jobs as much to provide for their families.

  22. It is crazy that monthly wages for garment workers in Honduras are approximately 107 percent of the national average wage in the country at only $650 per month. It makes me wonder what percent of the national average people in other jobs are making. It is almost the opposite for garment workers in the US who make a small percentage of the national average, but still more than workers in other countries.

  23. I think it is very interesting to compare wages in terms of country to country, and country to nation. Country to country- there clearly is a very large difference from the highest wage to lowest wage. Being a US citizen, it is heartbreaking to see how low some of the other countries wages are. Looking at it from a different perspective (country to nation) opens a different eye. Yes US may have a wage higher than other countries, but within our own nation, we are not being paid nearly enough, similar to that of almost every other country with the exception of 2. For those two countries, seeing that their garment wage is higher than their national wage (at such a low cost), I become curious of what other jobs are making.

  24. I have never looked into the wages that garment workers receive in other parts of the world. I have also never put much thought into the fact that there are still garment workers in the US, considering the fact that it seems like almost all garments I wear are imported from different parts of the world. The most unexpected fact of this wage data was that in Honduras, the workers only make on average $650 a month, but that the amount is 107% of the national average wage. This first led me to believe that everyone in that country, if operating on a monthly salary of $650 is considered to be in poverty. However, then I began to consider the fact that the cost of living in Honduras may be much lower than the cost of living found amongst citizens in the US. One final thought that I had about this data was that it explains why companies are always looking for cheaper labor in order to produce their products in the most cost effective way. Seeing that the lowest monthly wage of a garment worker in Sri Lanka is $194 a month, compared to the Unites States, which is $1,864 a month, shows a clear reason as to why certain companies choose to outsource for apparel manufacturing. Some companies just may not be able to afford the costs that are involved in producing their items in the US, which includes the wages paid to workers.

    1. I agree with and think that everything that this user pointed out was super important to consider. Like this user said, the monthly average wages are alarming low for these countries, however, the cost of living is most likely substantial lower than that of the US. Along with that, one thing they did not mention, is the type of work these countries are doing in comparison to the US. These countries are much more under developed and mostly rely on labor intensive work in order to stimulate the economy, while the United States is much more skill and technological based. These type of works are valued at much different costs and might be another reason on why the average monthly wages are so shockingly different. That would also be another explaining factor, besides what this commenter mentioned as to why the US looks to source from these countries. Not only is it cost effective to do so, but these countries also specialize in this type of work and have the resources to do so.

  25. It is interesting to view these charts because although I knew U.S. garment workers had higher wages than workers in other countries, especially the developing ones, I did not know how drastic of a difference it was. The fact that in places like Sri Lanka, garment workers make less than $200 dollars a month is so crazy to think about because people in the U.S. spend more than that on a daily basis. The standards of living in these developing countries are very low but I cannot even image how garment workers survive on these extremely low wages and it really makes you think twice about the money people in our society spend on irrelevant things. It is also very interesting to note that even though the average U.S. garment worker makes drastically more money than other countries, that statistic does not match with the national average. This raises the question of if U.S. garment workers are being paid enough since they are only getting about half of the average U.S. wage. Although this percentage does seem low, the extent to which the U.S. economy is developed and the wide variety of jobs and industries offered shows how this number does make sense, especially since garment jobs are being replaces with technology and there are so many other, better job opportunities available in the U.S.

  26. I am very surprised that the a higher wage level in absolute term does not necessarily mean a more decent pay because I would have assumed there would be a direct correlation. I was shocked that garment workers in Honduras earning only $650 each month, amount to approximately 107 percent of the national average wage in the country. It is clear that the low wages in other countries have unfortunately reached a new extreme, which is why I believe the United States should take action, but also the US consumers are responsible for demanding fast fashion and causing severe implications.

  27. Good day,
    I am writing a book about the clothing industry and I find you article very useful. I would like to add quotes and add a link of this article and I will need your written permission to do that. Will you be willing to give it to me?
    Kind Regards

  28. I think this chart is misleading considering the fact that the cost of living in each country is much different. For example, the cost of living in the USA is much higher than in Sri Lanka. The reason for the wages of garment workers being under the national average may be due to increased costs for apparel companies. Considering much of apparel production can now be automated, there is less need of companies to rely on human labor and therefore, may “low-ball” the wages of these workers because they are happy to even have the job to begin with and if they requested for higher pay, may be replaced by machines. This has happened in other countries when the workers requested more pay, they would be threatened to be replaced by more automation.

    1. very good thoughts! I think the second graph reminded us that it is not enough just to consider the absolute wage level–like the point you made. And I agree that we need to keep watching the impact of automation on wage level–it may benefit those with high levels of education and hurt those without.

  29. These two graphs reinforce knowledge that we have learned through this class about capital and labor intensive countries. The US is a capital intensive country and although the monthly wage is relatively the highest compared to the rest of the countries, it also has the highest standard of living. The US is one of the wealthier countries that is being compared, but the apparel industry only accounts for 51% of the average national wage which is something very surprising to me. Usually when people think of the US they think most industries are flourishing, but this graph shows how the apparel industry is actually declining. Capital intensive countries have more expensive labor than labor intensive countries and that explains the low wage rate. Countries like Honduras and Guatemala are labor intensive countries and therefore most of their economy is based on the apparel industry. Those countries therefore pay a higher wage relatively when comparing the wages to the national average. In labor intensive industries, the apparel industry drives the economy which explains why the country pays a higher percentage of the national wage. It is also surprising to see that countries that we think are not flourishing are actually doing very well within the apparel industry.

  30. It is very interesting that some of the nation’s worker wage is actually higher then the average wage. In many lectures, I always learn that apparel workers were mostly paid by a very low wage and could barely rely it for living. I would certainly want to know more about the economic status of Honduras and Guatemala. Since these two countries were the exceptions of wage low then average wage of a nation.

  31. It is interesting to see based off of the charts that garment workers in the U.S. make the highest wages compared with other countries around the world and “appear” to be the best off. However, it is important to take into consideration the differences in cost of living between these countries as well. The cost of living for the average consumer in the U.S. is higher than that of their counterparts in least developed countries, and thus the seemingly high wages garment workers are paid are not the only representation of how much better off garment workers are in one part of the world vs. another.

  32. I find fast fashion one of the most frustrating trends in the apparel industry, pursued by nothing but senseless consumerism, fast fashion only benefits the consumers and businesses selling the products at the expense of the people making them and the environment overall. Labor wages are so poor in other parts of the world because firms produce their good there for the cheap labor and we cannot get cheap labor if the worker gets paid fairly. Other factors at play here are also lack of education, lack of worker programs and corruption at upper levels in third world countries. The wage discrepancies across the world are an unfortunate but multifaceted issue that would take global collaboration to overcome.

  33. Regarding these statistics, I think it is extremely interesting that the apparel industry has duties that are 15% more than that of other consumer goods. If those duties were more fair, then maybe the labor costs in the industry would not be so far behind that of other industries. I wonder if there is a way that we could create an initiative to reallocate that money and make sure it is specifically going to workers in LDC’s, instead of the governments of other countries who already have immense amounts of money.

  34. The graphs in this article really do show the harsh reality of garment workers. While the first chart looks how most people would expect it to look, the second graph shows a much more positive view of the garment worker industry-even though that is not the case. Garment production makes up most of the jobs in countries like Bangladesh, Guatemala and Honduras- if production was taken out of these countries then their people and economy would suffer greatly. However, more work needs to be done in the fact that these workers need to be making more money to maintain a livable and sufficient lifestyle. To compare the wages between the US and other under-developed countries is not fair. Each country needs to be individually evaluated and incomes needs to be adjusted based on the means of living within each country.

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