MADE FREE Artisan handcrafting totes in fair trade factory

How to determine a living wage?

When you think about sustainability, it's important to look beyond just the materials of your items or how green they are. Ask yourself: Do you know if the person who made your product is earning a livable wage? Are they working in safe and dignified environments? These are crucial questions to consider when evaluating the true sustainability of a product.

Workers and artisans alike who do not earn a livable wage are more vulnerable to exploitation, human trafficking, and modern slavery. By ensuring fair wages, we can help protect these workers and promote ethical production practices.

How do we figure out how much is enough for someone to live on, comfortably and with dignity? Let’s break it down.

What is a Living Wage?

A living wage is more than just a paycheck. It’s the amount of money someone needs to cover the basics – food, housing, education, healthcare, and a bit more for life's little pleasures. Think of it as a thriving wage. It’s not about just scraping by; it’s about living a life that’s fairly livable and fulfilling.


Definition of livable wage according to MADE FREE


Unlike the minimum wage, which is often set by law and can be too low to cover all these needs, a living wage ensures that workers can support themselves and their families without constant financial stress. So, what is a fair wage? It’s one that meets these criteria.

How Do We Figure This Out?

Basic Needs Calculation:

  • Housing: The cost of renting or owning a home, plus utilities and upkeep, varies a lot depending on where you live. A living wage takes all this into account.
  • Food: Everyone needs to eat, and not just any food, but nutritious meals that keep you healthy and energized.
  • Healthcare: Medical expenses, including insurance, prescriptions, and emergency care, are essential.
  • Education: School fees, supplies, and transportation costs are included because everyone deserves a good education.
  • Transportation: Whether it’s bus fare or car maintenance, getting to work and around town costs money.

Social and Cultural Needs:

A living wage should also let you enjoy some cultural and social activities. Life isn’t just about working and paying bills; it’s also about enjoying time with family and friends and being part of your community. 

Savings and Emergencies:

You need a safety net for those unexpected expenses. A living wage includes some extra for savings and emergencies, so a surprise bill doesn’t send you into debt.

Methods for Calculating a Living Wage

How do we crunch these numbers? There are a few ways:

  1. The Anker MethodologyThis method involves detailed research into local living costs, considering everything from housing to food. It’s comprehensive and reliable.
  2. WageIndicator Foundation’s Cost of Living Survey: This survey collects data directly from workers about their expenses, giving a real-world perspective on what people need to live.
  3. Government and NGO ReportsMany organizations conduct studies to figure out living wages, taking regional and economic conditions into account.


Transforming Lives Through Economic Empowerment

MADE FREE artisans playing volleyball outside factory


Pictured: MADE FREE makers playing volleyball outside of factory. 


At MADE FREE, we believe in the power of economic empowerment to transform lives, especially for women and girls who face systemic barriers and vulnerabilities that can lead to exploitation and modern slavery.


Our Commitment:

By ensuring that all of our products are handcrafted in small factory teams certified by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) or that exceed WFTO standards, we are not just advocating for ethical production; we are actively investing in safe, dignified environments where makers can thrive.

MADE FREE artisan stitching made free label onto backpack

Learn more about the MADE FREE Makers


It is essential that the brands we buy from are actively investing in empowering their workers and artisans. At MADE FREE, we ensure they have access to quality training and the chance to earn livable wages. This proactive model is designed to empower them economically, ensuring they are less vulnerable to the pitfalls of modern slavery.

When we think about combating human trafficking and modern slavery, our minds might jump to law enforcement action or international policies. However, one of the most effective tools in this fight might just be something seemingly ordinary: ensuring a livable wage for all workers. This measure touches on the roots of exploitation and can significantly disrupt human trafficking networks.

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Fair Trade and Ethical Brands

Fair Trade jobs and careers are leading the charge in ensuring workers receive a living wage. Companies committed to fair trade practices are setting new standards for what fair compensation looks like. By supporting these companies, we can help make sure that more workers get paid what they deserve.


How Fair Trade Works Towards Living Wages

Fair Trade International plays a significant role in promoting living wages. Here’s how they do it:

Setting Fair Trade Minimum Prices:

Fair Trade sets minimum prices for products, ensuring that producers are paid fairly. These prices are designed to cover the costs of sustainable production and provide a safety net for farmers and workers.

You might also like: Our Most Impactful ESG and SDG Initiatives for Earth Day 2024

Fair Trade Premium:

On top of the minimum price, there’s a Fair Trade  Premium – an additional sum of money that goes into a communal fund for workers and farmers to use as they see fit. This can be invested in social, economic, or environmental projects to improve their communities and quality of life.

Standards and Certification:

Fair Trade standards include criteria for fair wages and working conditions. Certification ensures that these standards are met and maintained, promoting a fair wage culture across different industries and regions.

Supporting Small Producers:

Fair Trade focuses on supporting small-scale producers who are often disadvantaged in the global market. By providing access to international markets and better trading conditions, Fair Trade helps these producers earn a living wage.

Targeted Projects:

Fair Trade develops projects to test new ways of increasing wages. For example, on banana plantations, Fair Trade  partners with buyers who agree to pay a few cents more per product, directly benefiting workers.

Promoting Collective Bargaining:

Fair Trade supports workers in organizing and bargaining collectively for better wages and working conditions, ensuring their voices are heard in wage negotiations.

Reducing Gender Pay Gaps:

Fair Trade works to reduce gender pay gaps by providing women with access to education, safe workplaces, childcare, and opportunities for advancement into better-paying jobs.


Fair Trade collaborates with other organizations to advocate for fairer wages and better working conditions, pushing for changes in laws and policies at the national and international levels.

You might also like: World Fair Trade Day: How You Can Get Involved

Final Thoughts

When you think about sustainability, it's important to look beyond just the materials of your items or how green they are. Ask yourself: Do you know if the person who made it is earning a livable wage? Are they working in safe and dignified environments? These are crucial questions to consider when evaluating the true sustainability of a product. 

You might also like: Sustainability: More Than Just the Materials

By supporting brands and companies that ensure fair wages and working conditions, like MADE FREE, we can contribute to a more equal and sustainable world for everyone.




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