What is Fair Trade in Clothing?

So why have we started banging on about fair triad products and what on Earth are they? Well, to start, what a lot of people don’t know is why we NEED to be purchasing fair trade…

The World Fair Trade Organisation declares 10 principals of fair trade:

  1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
  2. Transparency and accountability
  3. Fair trade practises
  4. Payment of a fair price
  5. Ensuring no child or forced labour
  6. Commitment to non discrimination, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment, and freedom of association
  7. Ensuring good working conditions
  8. Providing capacity building
  9. Promoting fair trade
  10. Respect for the environment

Ok, let’s make sense of all these principles in simple terms!

Let’s be honest, how often do we look at our clothing labels and see that they are made in China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh…etc and think to ourselves, ‘oh that’s why this is so cheap’? Rather than providing working opportunities for people in these countries, many fast fashion chains pay very little for clothing from factories and companies that force employees to work in poor and unsafe conditions. The Rana Plaza disaster is just one example of this. Clothing labels with the Fair Trade stamp of approval ensure that their products a made in communities that truly enhance the skills and wellbeing of employees, just like any job really should.

Transparency and accountability is when a fashion label is able to happily show and explain how they work and communicate respectfully with their supply chain. Anyone who researches into a Fair Trade product should be able to find out where the label gets their fabrics from, who makes the clothing and in what conditions they work. There really shouldn’t be any secrets. If there are, well… I’ll let you decide what it tells us about that company.

A fashion label has fair trading practices when the pay of people in the supply chain, the wellbeing of people in the supply chain and the affect on the environment is not regarded as insignificant to the overall profit of label. It sounds obvious but since when was it ok to create a ‘successful’ company at the expense of the wellbeing of others and the wellbeing of the planet? If you walked into you workplace tomorrow and you boss said, “Look, I need you to work 16 hours straight today. I know it’s super hot and the air con is broken but if you refuse I’ll have someone beat you. Also, I’m only going to pay you a quarter of what you deserve. Don’t worry though, this is going to increase my profits and the customers will be happy,” what would you do?

A fair price is a price that can not only last in the market but is fair for the producers based on their needs. This can only be decided through communication and understanding. Of course, it would not be sustainable for clothing products to be so overpriced that they are overly expensive to purchase. But this needs to be communicated within the supply chain. Workers need a wage that provides them a decent life and matches their skill set. Think about some of the intricacies on your clothing in your wardrobe and how difficult we ourselves would find it to create. The one who made those beautiful clothes, that you have decided to wear to say something about yourself as a person, deserves to be paid fairly.

No child or person should be forced to work under any circumstances! Fair trade labels make certain they know who is working for them along the supply chain, ensuring this does not include children. They also make sure that employees have rights. Employees are not discriminated against based on race, caste, national origin, religion, diability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/AIDS status or age.

The work place needs to be a safe and healthy working environment. It’s surprising how many people in society think that it’s ok for poor people in other countries to work in poor conditions with low wages because, ‘it’s all they know’ or ‘it matches that country’s standard of living.’ This is not true. People in sweatshops are forced to work under poor conditions and are often threatened or assaulted if they speak up. Fair trade fashion warrants happy workers have produced their products in safe working conditions.

Fair trade labels also regard themselves as responsible for helping employees further down the supply chain develop professionally by providing opportunities to improve their skills or move into management. In turn, this provides employees, within small producers, the ability to expand their career.

Fair trade fashion labels make it their responsibility to actively promote and make people aware of the justice of fair trade in itself. They are able to provide information about the product journey and advertise honestly.

Fair trade fashion makes use of as many natural fibres from sustainable sources as possible. It is aware of its affect on the environment even when growing fibres by using little pesticides. Additionally, products are sent by sea whenever possible.

As much as we can blame the fashion industry and the products that are available around us, we really are responsible for the choices we make when purchasing clothing. In Alex James’s documentary, ‘Slowing down fast fashion’, he recommends asking ourselves each time we shop:

Why is it so cheap?

Where was it made?

Who made it?

How long will I wear it for?

Where will it end up?

If we cannot comfortably answer these questions, then maybe we should reconsider purchasing the product.

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