Updated on January 16, 2023 by Sarina Tariq
There was a period in the history of mankind when we didn’t care about where our clothing came from. Today that is not the case. Many of us care where our clothing is coming from, whether it is made in a place where laborers are ill-treated etc.
But business is never fair. Unscrupulous companies will always try to find a way to turn around all laws and make money, leaving the earth and its resources depleted, and millions of laborers exploited. The environmental and social impact of production is considered trivial in front of profit. Fairtrade standards exist to prevent this.
Fairtrade is a certification system for ethical and sustainable practices in the production of goods. In fashion, Fairtrade is people-centric, with strict standards to guarantee fair prices and working conditions for farmers, producers, and workers. It is all about ethical and sustainable fashion with a social angle. In textiles, fairtrade is primarily available for the purchase and sale of fiber crops, specifically cotton.
Fashion is a billion-dollar industry; as such, all the disheartening practices of industrialization can be found here. But if you want to do something ethical and make your own contribution to a better world, there is something you can do, which has a certification attached to it. Look out for clothing with a fairtrade stamp.
You must have seen this mark on premium cotton clothes:
This product is Fairtrade certified and sourced from Fairtrade producers.
This is a privileged mark given only to products that meet necessary ethical criteria.
Fairtrade is a global movement that began in the Netherlands in 1988 and quickly spread to other countries. The main international Fair Trade networks are WFTO, Fairtrade International, European Fair Trade Association, Fair Trade USA™ and Fairtrade Network UK
The capital of the Fairtrade International is Bonn, Germany. It is the home of the organization’s international headquarters and serves as the administrative center for all its globally-coordinated activities and works with millions of farmers and workers around the world.
What is Fairtrade?.
As per the wfto website the defintion of fairtrade is
“Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.
Fair Trade Organisations have a clear commitment to Fair Trade as the principal core of their mission. They, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”
To feature the Fairtrade Mark, a garment must have at least 20% certified Fairtrade content.
Fairtrade agencies regularly monitor the factories and farms to ensure that these goods are produced according to their standards. Only then can it be labeled as fair trade clothing.
Standards of Fairtrade
Fairtrade practices in fashion involve ensuring that standards are always maintained in all the processes that are involved in creating clothing. These standards pertain to
- Fair wages
- Hours of work
- Environmental safeguards
- Forced labor
- Minimum age criteria
- Health and safety
- Gender equality
- Environmental sustainability
These also include
- Responsible use of earth’s resources
- Water conservation
- Workers are given safe and sound working conditions
- Natural and sustainable materials are used in the production
- The practice of equitable trading practices
- Women empowerment
Producers must pass all these criteria before they can become certified and able to sell their goods as Fairtrade products at a premium.
A Fairtrade-approved manufacturer funds several community development projects such as healthcare initiatives, education facilities for kids, or clean water access programs, which aid in developing the community of laborers. Other than ensuring the workers’ rights, this is another welcome social change brought out by the fairtrade standards.
The purpose of fairtrade standards is to ensure that the goods that reach the consumers are made under fair conditions to all – the farmers and workers in developing countries who make the clothing are treated fairly, paid a living wage, and benefit from working conditions that are safe and respectful of their rights.
The brands are held accountable and asked to take responsibility for the health, safety, and economic well being of factory workers and also about the impact of their production on the environment.
Fair Trade Vs Fast Fashion
There is bound to be a conflict between the ideals of fast fashion and fair trade because fast fashion is meant to generate a profit by producing lots of clothes cheaply and quickly. This is always at the cost of the rights of the laborers who make them.
Fast fashion factories are almost always situated in 3rd world countries, where labor is cheap, and people have no energy or inclination to ask for good wages or safe working conditions. Unethical practices are the norm in these factories. Workers who are very poor are made to work unnaturally long periods of time and housed in inhuman buildings. They are overworked, and usually, none of the benefits that employees elsewhere take for granted are provided.
Fairtrade practices are at loggerheads with these practices – they stand for good working conditions, including safe and sound buildings and surroundings, good equipment and protective tools when needed, fair wages, and ethical and equitable trade policies.
Fair Trade Standards in cotton
Cotton is one of the most popular fabrics in the world, and the cotton plant is cultivated mainly in 3rd world countries. Small-scale farmers in developing nations are at a disadvantage when dealing with big corporations. Cotton farmers are usually affected by decreasing yields, rising production costs, and climate change.
Under the Fairtrade standards, all these are considered, and they are given a fair chance. There is more transparency in the supply chain. The producers are not allowed to be taken advantage of. They are given due representation in international markets under fair trade policies and ensured a fair price.
Sustainable production of cotton is encouraged, which reduces the environmental damage caused by over-fertilization, etc. Transparency and accountability are maintained throughout the process, from production to sale.
When you buy Fairtrade clothing, it is understood that they meet the standards proposed under the model of fairtrade international – which is based on sustainability and people-centric practices. This can put the customer at ease.
Yes, fair trade clothing comes at a premium. Still, by buying fairtrade clothing, you are doing your bit to help fellow human beings who are working hard to clothe you and ensure that the environment around you benefits. I am sure you will look out for a fair trade certified clothing for your next purchase.