There's an interesting article today on a company that has launched a living wage initiative with a new factory in the Dominican Republic. They seek to supply universities with college-logo apparel. For this specific market I think this is likely to be a very successful initiative and applaud them on it.
From a more general perspective however, I think factories such as this are likely to remain the exception without having much direct impact. They're paying workers three times the prevailing wage in the industry resulting in a 20% increase in costs. I don't know a thing about the apparel industry specifically but this seems like too much of a leap from industry norms to become widespread. At the same time, I tend to believe that too much focus on costs often impedes quality and gets diminishing returns due to an unhappy workforce. The real shifts will probably come when a larger industry player decides that a 5-10% increase in costs is an acceptable price for a happier workforce and ends abuses in their plants.
Though, while I'm speculating based on no data, I also wouldn't be surprised if a major barrier to ending abuses in these plants is a low quality of available management. Labor history shows that many reforms that aided workers when abuses were at their worst didn't really harm productivity. But when the problems are unpaid overtime and not allowing sick workers to go home my thoughts tend towards the problem being poor management that misses the role of quality and productivity in favor of a crude focus on quantity. Perhaps raising wages would be enough to shift thinking a bit but I think the problems may run far deeper than the college campus activists would like to admit with fair trade. Still, a good initiative but I'd like to see something a little more in depth about why it is so common for abuses like lack of sick leave persist even when these are likely uneconomical decisions.