Wages – the monetary payments that workers receive from employers in exchange for their labour – are widely overlooked in academic and policy debates about human rights and business in global supply chains. They shouldn’t be. Just as living wages can insulate workers from human rights abuse and labour exploitation, wages that hover around or below the poverty line, compounded by illegal practices like wage theft and delayed payment, leave workers vulnerable to severe labour exploitation and human rights abuse. This article draws on data from a study of global tea and cocoa supply chains to explore the impact of wages on one of the most severe human rights abuses experienced in global supply chains, forced labour. Demonstrating that low-wage workers experience high vulnerability to forced labour in global supply chains, it argues that the role of wages in shaping or protecting workers from exploitation needs to be taken far more seriously by scholars and policymakers. When wages are ignored, so too is a crucial tool to protect human rights and heighten business accountability in global supply chains.