What Is Fair Trade?
Purchasing fair trade products benefits impoverished communities.
What’s wrong with conventional trade?
As cheaply made, mass produced fast fashion continually floods the US market, it creates waste, environmental issues and all the cultural problems of disposable consumerism. The biggest negative impact however is on workers in some of the poorest producer countries. Corporations typically source overseas to drive down costs and maximize profits. By using their immense bargaining power, they take advantage of weak Govt. regulations and exploit cheap labor; often with no regard for the social and environmental impact on local communities. The typical garment mill worker in a developing nation, for instance, is paid exploitative wages, over-worked in unsafe, unhygienic sweatshop conditions, intimidated and deprived of basic human dignity and a decent livelihood. Tragic events like the Bangladesh Rana Plaza factory collapse have brought worldwide attention to these issues.
What are the benefits of fair trade?
The fair trade movement, unlike the locally made movement, does not attempt to reverse globalization. Instead it uses the power of a world marketplace to help alleviate global poverty. By generating awareness and garnering support from ethical consumers and businesses, Fair Trade USA has generated over $400 million in premiums and additional income to farmers and workers worldwide. As awareness grows, consumers choose higher quality, ethically made goods and pay a small price premium to assist struggling communities in producer regions. In USA, 57% of consumers surveyed said they were willing to pay at least five percent more for Fair Trade Certified products.
- For the small farmer, a fair trade cotton premium of approx. 6 cents per kilo over market price encourages sustainable production with quality inputs. It promotes use of safer ecological methods that preserve the environment instead of degrading it. The fair trade premium is often invested in community projects to help improve the low standard of living e.g. entire villages can have safe drinking water, infra structure, schooling and medical facilities where none existed before. By working within fair trade projects farmers are assured long term partnerships with buyers, sustainable working conditions and financial credit without fear of exploitation.
- For factory workers, fair trade ensures that no child labor is used, employers pay decent wages, maintain health and safety standards and provide a conducive work environment. Workers receive training about their rights and grievance procedures and are guaranteed the right to join trade unions. Each product sold as ‘Fair Trade Certified’ contributes an additional 5% of the production cost to a mill workers fund set up specifically to supplement wages.
- Women empowerment is a key component of fair trade. Women participate in decision making in our fair trade project. This benefits entire communities as they often invest in new services, local business and community projects like child care and schooling. Standards at the mill level mandates equal pay, standards for maternity leave, healthcare and freedom from harassment.
- The environment benefits from fair trade practices. Fair prices cover the costs of sustainable production which allows purchase of high quality, safe inputs and better use of resources. It allows farmers the use of safer ecological methods that preserve the environment, not degrade it.
Why ‘fair trade’, why not ‘made in USA’?
We continually explore options for providing the most sustainable t-shirts and recognize that both choices help local economies and present sustainable alternatives to sweatshops. Domestic production is a more eco-friendly choice, however in apparel often the cotton is imported from overseas, negating some of the environmental benefit. Production cost can also present a barrier, particularly as the garment industry is highly labor intensive; an organic cotton t-shirt made fairly in USA can be 40-50% more expensive.
It is worth noting that when it comes to ethical apparel choices, the ‘Made in USA’ label does not always guarantee that workers are paid minimum wages and work in good conditions. The Dept. of Labor has revealed that many U.S. garment factories employ low-wage immigrant or undocumented labor and regularly violate wage & overtime laws and basic health and safety regulations. Also, factories set up in U.S. territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa and Saipan may use the ‘Made in the USA’ label without adhering to U.S. labor laws.
We partner with Fair Trade USA’s apparel program to support their worker empowerment projects worldwide. Fair Trade Certification™ provides the US consumer an opportunity to make a direct, lasting impact in impoverished communities and give a worker a leg up, not a hand out. By paying just a few cents more, ethical consumers can make a powerful lasting impact and create livelihoods of dignity. They get high quality products, peace of mind and the opportunity to invest in small scale enterprises in economies with the greatest disparities. We believe the fair trade movement presents an opportunity to address grave issues like poverty alleviation, social justice, human and women’s rights.
What is the Fair Trade Certified Apparel program?
Fair Trade USA’s ‘Fair Trade Certified’ logo has become a well-recognized symbol of assurance for ethically minded consumers and is widely seen on coffee, tea, grocery and cosmetics. Until recently, there was no such program for apparel due to the complexities of certifying supply chains as cotton moves from farms to ginning and spinning facilities to dyeing mills to cut/stitch factories. After more than three years of research, consulting with workers and workers’ rights NGOs, drafting rigorous standards and identifying and auditing pioneering partners, Fair Trade USA launched a program to certify apparel in July 2010.