Evalutating Fair Trade Certification for Clothing

January 23, 2013 by

Providing Fair Trade certification to overseas clothing manufacturers can play a role in promoting ethical and sustainable supply chains in the apparel sector, according to a report released today on a pilot project supported by Catholic Relief Services.

The Fair Trade Certified Apparel project is the first global program to certify facilities making clothing, accessories, and linens with a consumer label to signal social and environmental sustainability. It is also the first time that a Fair Trade program is attempting to deliver direct economic benefit in the form of a Fair Trade Premium at two different levels of the supply chain – to cotton farmers and to cut-and-sew workers. It was carried out by Fair Trade USA’s Multi-Stakeholder Group (MSG) for apparel.

During the two year pilot period, four factories out of 55 applicants were certified, with four more in process—a testament to the rigorous Fair Trade standards. A total of 16,000 cotton farmers in India, Egypt and Nicaragua directly benefited from participation in the program, along with 1,300 factory workers in India, Liberia and Costa Rica.

The findings include:

+ Workers in certified factories earned 15 percent above local minimum wage on average, and up to double the minimum wage in one facility.

+ Distribution of the Fair Trade premium resulted in tangible change in the local community (e.g. building a school in war-torn Liberia, and distributing cash bonuses equivalent to one week’s pay).

+ Impact (as measured by Fair Trade premiums) tripled each year of the program, due to availability of certified products through national channels like REI and Zappos.com.

+ There is no one-size-fits-all approach to worker representation in cut-and-sew factories, and worker training is needed to ensure that all employees understand their rights, including the right to freedom of association as required by Fair Trade standards.

Jackie DeCarlo of CRS Fair Trade was involved in the apparel pilot since very early days, embracing the project after Catholic Relief Services participated in the Feasibility Study in 2006. Jackie first encountered Fair Trade while traveling in Mexico in 1999 and became determined to help educate other consumers about Fair Trade’s power and potential. Ever since, she has been an advocate for Fair Trade as a sustainable and empowering framework for understanding consumption and commerce. She is the author of Fair Trade: A Beginner’s Guide, and former director of Fair Trade Resource Network. At CRS Jackie manages economic justice programs, particularly the Fair Trade crafts, coffee, and chocolate projects.

Read the full text of the Apparel Pilot Report.


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