Jul 19, 2018

Fair Trade in Fashion

by Aksha Verma
Reading time: 11 mins

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Fair trade is a social movement whose stated goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions. Members of the movement advocate the payment of higher prices to exporters, as well as improved social and environmental standards.

The movement focuses in particular on commodities, or products which are typically exported from developing countries to developed countries.

The movement seeks to promote greater equity in international trading partnerships through dialogue, transparency, and respect. It promotes sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers in developing countries.

Fair trade is grounded in three core beliefs; first, producers have the power to express unity with consumers. Secondly, the world trade practices that currently exist promote the unequal distribution of wealth between nations. Lastly, buying products from producers in developing countries at a fair price is a more efficient way of promoting sustainable development than traditional charity and aid.

How is fair trade fashion defined as?

Fair trade fashion is about making mainstream brands fairer. It’s not about changing our fashion sense but critically ensuring that what we are wearing is not made by exploiting vulnerable farmers and workers. Fairtrade fashion is about providing consumers with informed choices. I wonder how many of us would accept to pay less for our clothes if we knew they were produced by farmers lumbered with unsustainable debt, or by workers exploited in bonded-labour like conditions.

How is the fashion industry impacting the bottom level of the production chain?

‘Pressure’ is a key word to explain this concept: firstly, pressure is on the environment due to the pollution caused by the production processes; secondly, it is on the farmers in terms of price for their cotton. This year cotton prices in India declined by 20 per cent, and nearly 70 per cent of the 2,96,000 farmer suicides in India have taken place in the cotton belt. Finally, pressure is further up the value chain where the textile industry is being pushed to produce our clothing at increasingly lower prices. This invariably results in lower wages and working standards for the textile and garment workers.

This process allows consumers to buy ‘affordable clothing’, but marginal farmers get trapped in economical and working constraints from which they can’t see a way out.

What role does global markets play in this movement towards fair trade?

There are two sides to the role played by global markets. On the one hand,they provide global opportunities for farmers and businesses in India; for example, for the past 19 years fairtrade farmers and certified businesses have been catering to the international fairtrade market.

On the other hand, global markets come with global risks – especially in a commoditized world where fluctuations in price, variations in demand/supply, and other events like political phenomena in one country can affect what happens in the other. This higher risk in an already vulnerable agricultural sector can play havoc. The 20 per cent drop in Indian cotton prices was because of global factors.

Farmers demand that more of their cotton be sold on Fairtrade terms. According to an independent study, farmers only start seeing significant benefits of fairtrade when at least 40 per cent of their produce is sold on Fairtrade terms.

A major focus is on ensuring that the small and marginal farmers growing cotton earn a fair and sustainable income for their produce. Fairtrade standards, which the producers and buyers must commit to, emphasise on the payment of a fair price to the farmers as well as investments in the producer communities called Fairtrade Premium. This is used by the farmers for a range of social and economic projects ranging from scholarships for their children to rain water harvesting and drip irrigation. Also, the farmers agree to a number of social and environmental practices, which ensure that the environment is protected and that the vulnerable members of their community– children and women– are empowered.

A number of young brands are leading the fairtrade campaign for change and are bringing out amazing designs and clothing so that consumers don’t have to change their look to subscribe to more ethical beliefs.

Brands like No Nasties, Grassroot, Do U Speak Green, and Dibella India are driving the fairtrade fashion in India.

Detailed Annual Reports from the fair trade forum for the years 2005-2015 can be found on this link: http://www.fairtradeforum.org/resources/download-2/

Ten Principles of Fair Trade

1 : Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

Poverty reduction through trade forms a key part of the organization’s aims. The organization supports marginalized small producers, whether these are independent family businesses, or grouped in associations or co-operatives. It seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership. The organization has a plan of action to carry this out.

2 : Transparency and Accountability

The organization is transparent in its management and commercial relations. It is accountable to all its stakeholders and respects the sensitivity and confidentiality of commercial information supplied.The organization finds appropriate, participatory ways to involve employees, members and producers in its decision-making processes. It ensures that relevant information is provided to all its trading partners. The communication channels are good and open at all levels of the supply chain.

3 : Fair Trading Practices

The organization trades with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and does not maximize profit at their expense. It is responsible and professional in meeting its commitments in a timely manner. Suppliers respect contracts and deliver products on time and to the desired quality and specifications.

Fair Trade buyers, recognizing the financial disadvantages producers and suppliers face, ensure orders are paid on receipt of documents and according to the attached guidelines. A pre payment of at least 50% is made if requested.

Where southern Fair Trade suppliers receive a pre payment from buyers, they ensure that this payment is passed on to the producers or farmers who make or grow their Fair Trade products.

Organizations which produce Fair Trade products maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources in their ranges, buying locally when possible Buyers consult with suppliers before canceling or rejecting orders. Where orders are cancelled through no fault of producers or suppliers, adequate compensation is guaranteed for work already done. Suppliers and producers consult with buyers if there is a problem with delivery, and ensure compensation is provided when delivered quantities and qualities do not match those invoiced.

The organization maintains long term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect that contribute to the promotion and growth of Fair Trade. It maintains effective communication with its trading partners. Parties involved in a trading relationship seek to increase the volume of the trade between them and the value and diversity of their product offer as a means of growing Fair Trade for the producers in order to increase their incomes. The organization works cooperatively with the other Fair Trade Organizations in country and avoids unfair competition. It avoids duplicating the designs of patterns of other organizations without permission.

Fair Trade recognizes, promotes and protects the cultural identity and traditional skills of small producers as reflected in their craft designs, food products and other related services.

4 : Payment of a Fair Price

A fair price is one that has been mutually agreed by all through dialogue and participation, which provides fair pay to the producers and can also be sustained by the market. Where Fair Trade pricing structures exist, these are used as a minimum. Fair pay means provision of socially acceptable remuneration (in the local context) considered by producers themselves to be fair and which takes into account the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men. Fair Trade marketing and importing organizations support capacity building as required to producers, to enable them to set a fair price.

5 : Ensuring no Child Labour and Forced Labour

The organization adheres to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national / local law on the employment of children. The organization ensures that there is no forced labour in its workforce and / or members or homeworkers.

Organizations who buy Fair Trade products from producer groups either directly or through intermediaries ensure that no forced labour is used in production and the producer complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national / local law on the employment of children. Any involvement of children in the production of Fair Trade products (including learning a traditional art or craft) is always disclosed and monitored and does not adversely affect the children’s well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play.

6 : Commitment to Nondiscrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association

The organization does not discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/Aids status or age. The organization provides opportunities for women and men to develop their skills and actively promotes applications from women for job vacancies and for leadership positions in the organization.The organization takes into account the special health and safety needs of pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. Women fully participate in decisions concerning the use of benefits accruing from the production process.

The organization respects the right of all employees to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. Where the right to join trade unions and bargain collectively are restricted by law and/or political environment, the organization will enable means of independent and free association and bargaining for employees. The organization ensures that representatives of employees are not subject to discrimination in the workplace.

Organizations working directly with producers ensure that women are always paid for their contribution to the production process, and when women do the same work as men they are paid at the same rates as men. Organizations also seek to ensure that in production situations where women’s work is valued less highly than men’s work, women’s work is re- valued to equalize pay rates and women are allowed to undertake work according to their capacities.

7 : Ensuring Good Working Conditions

The organization provides a safe and healthy working environment for employees and / or members. It complies, at a minimum, with national and local laws and ILO conventions on health and safety.

Working hours and conditions for employees and / or members (and any homeworkers) comply with conditions established by national and local laws and ILO conventions.

Fair Trade Organizations are aware of the health and safety conditions in the producer groups they buy from. They seek, on an ongoing basis, to raise awareness of health and safety issues and improve health and safety practices in producer groups.

8 : Providing Capacity Building

The organization seeks to increase positive developmental impacts for small, marginalized producers through Fair Trade.

The organization develops the skills and capabilities of its own employees or members.Organizations working directly with small producers develop specific activities to help these producers improve their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets – local / regional / international / Fair Trade and mainstream as appropriate. Organizations which buy Fair Trade products through Fair Trade intermediaries in the South assist these organizations to develop their capacity to support the marginalized producer groups that they work with.

9 : Promoting Fair Trade

The organization raises awareness of the aim of Fair Trade and of the need for greater justice in world trade through Fair Trade. It advocates for the objectives and activities of Fair Trade according to the scope of the organization. The organization provides its customers with information about itself, the products it markets, and the producer organizations or members that make or harvest the products. Honest advertising and marketing techniques are always used.

10 : Respect for the Environment

Organizations which produce Fair Trade products maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources in their ranges, buying locally when possible. They use production technologies that seek to reduce energy consumption and where possible use renewable energy technologies that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. They seek to minimize the impact of their waste stream on the environment. Fair Trade agricultural commodity producers minimize their environmental impacts, by using organic or low pesticide use production methods wherever possible.

Buyers and importers of Fair Trade products give priority to buying products made from raw materials that originate from sustainably managed sources, and have the least overall impact on the environment.

All organizations use recycled or easily biodegradable materials for packing to the extent possible, and goods are dispatched by sea wherever possible.

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