Evading Responsibility: A Structural Critique of Living Wage Initiatives and Methodologies


Despite the existence of multiple living wage initiatives and methodologies for calculating a living wage, there has been limited improvement in increasing garment workers’ incomes. This paper applies Iris Marion Young’s responsibility for structural injustice theory to connect apparel brands and retailers as the actors with power, privilege and capacity to enact change to improve poverty wages. This paper critically analyses two living wage methodologies and three living wage initiatives, drawing upon Young’s theory to understand why progress on living wage has stagnated. The analysis also considers whether gender has been incorporated, finding that most methodologies and initiatives fail to adequately embed gendered considerations. Findings reveal that the most powerful actors in apparel global values chains (brands and retailers) evade responsibility through performative membership with initiatives that prioritise profit, ignore gendered considerations and require minimum changes from businesses as usual.

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Published: 2022-06-03
Pages:15 to 29
Section:Special Issue: Fashion Justice
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How to Cite
Coneybeer, J. . and Maguire, R. (2022) “Evading Responsibility: A Structural Critique of Living Wage Initiatives and Methodologies ”, International Journal for Crime, Justice and Social Democracy, 11(2), pp. 15-29. doi: 10.5204/ijcjsd.2406.

Author Biographies

Queensland University of Technology

Justine Coneybeer is a PhD Candidate at the School of Justice, Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Her doctoral research project examines the fashion industry’s response to the introduction of Australia’s Modern Slavery Act, with a particular focus on the framing and drivers of responsibility. She is also a research associate on projects examining the political dimensions of shareholder activism, and the prevention of labour exploitation in the cotton value chain.  

Queensland University of Technology

Dr Rowena Maguire is an Associate Professor in the School of Law at QUT and the Program Leader of the Environmental and Social Governance Research Group at QUT.  Rowena’s research interests, publications and projects focus on climate and environmental regulation with a particular focus on equitable design and implementation informed by feminist and regulatory theory.  Rowena is currently working on two research programs: one stream focuses on climate and disaster governance and examines the structural injustices arising in the implementation of the Paris Agreement funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the Centre for Justice, QUT.  The second programme of work focuses on the social and environmental issues associated with the fashion industry with projects funded by the Cotton Research Development Corporation, Australian Retailers Association and the Department of Agriculture, Water, and the Environment.