People often ask us this question and wonder if Fairtrade and Fair Wear are essentially the same. It’s certainly true that both are aiming to achieve the same objective of ensuring that the people who produce the goods we use every day are treated fairly for their work. There are, however, differences in the approaches used and the different parts of the supply chain who are benefiting.
The focus of the Fairtrade Foundation is ensuring small producers receive an acceptable deal for their products when selling to large corporations. Concerned with a wide range of sectors (e.g. coffee, bananas, cocoa, cotton), the intention is to target and alleviate poverty affecting those at the bottom of the supply chain in developing countries.
Aiming to create better and fairer working conditions for manufacturing workers in the garment industry, Fair Wear Foundation pays particular attention to brand accountability at the middle and higher end of the supply chain, looking to ensure brands take responsibility for the surroundings in which their products are produced. Membership involves agreement to a set of ‘labour standards’ which are as follows:
- Employment is freely chosen
- There is no discrimination
- There is no exploitation of child labour
- Freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining
- Payment of a living wage
- No excessive working hours
- Safe and healthy working conditions
- A legally binding employment relationship.
As a Consumer, Which is Right for You?
In a perfect world, it would be possible to buy cotton clothing from a supply chain that was completely ethical from start to finish. Unfortunately, due to the notoriously lengthy and complex structure of the cotton supply chain, this is rarely achievable. Below is an example of a standard cotton supply chain.
- 1. Farming – Those who grow, pick and sell the cotton.
- 2. 1st Stage Processing, turning raw cotton into lint – The people who clean, gin, bale and transport the cotton.
- 3. 2nd Stage Processing, turning lint into yarn and yarn into fabric – Those who sort, card/comb, spin/weave, dye and pack.
- 4. Manufacturing, making cotton into clothes – The factory workers who cut patterns, sew, print, fold, pack and manage these processes.
Neither Fairtrade Foundation nor Fair Wear Foundation aim to cover the entire chain, with Fairtrade Foundation supporting the farmers and Fair Wear Foundation working with the factories that create sewn goods from the finished fabric. So, as a consumer, what is most important to you? Do you place more importance on fairness at the beginning of the supply chain, or further along at the factory stage?
If you consider that there is no evidence that the fair payment a farmer receives will necessarily ‘trickle down’ to the labourers he employs, you have to ask yourself whether the Fairtrade accreditation goes far enough for you. Epona Clothing is one of the few clothing companies to have Fairtrade Foundation certification and produces garments using Fairtrade cotton. They claim to have helped over 200 producers at the farming stage to secure an improved deal for their cotton – a feel good factor that is hard to ignore and a creditable achievement – but was it only the farm owners who benefited or their workers too? The Fairtrade Foundation does not monitor how farms are managed and how staff are paid, they simply work to secure a fair price for the commodity which is produced.
Fair Wear Foundation admits that clothing production can never be 100% fair, but expects its member brands to regularly audit the factories used to produce garments and take action to correct and resolve any problems that are found in the factory environment. Poor working conditions in garment factories has been a major concern for the public in recent years, particularly since the 2013 Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh which saw an eight storey building collapse, resulting in the deaths of 1129 workers and leaving many more injured. While membership of Fair Wear Foundation does not guarantee a company is ‘perfect’, those using Fair Wear Foundation guidance to enable them to have maximum impact of change and improvement are well placed to positively influence good and ethical practice in the factories they use.
The Consumer Decides
It seems that it is not yet possible to ensure a completely ethical supply chain for any garment and consumers need to draw their own conclusions about which scheme offers them the most reassurance.
Some of the brands in the wholesale market that appear to be working hardest to ensure their garments are produced in as ethical a way as possible are: the EarthPositive and Salvage ranges from Continental Clothing, Stanley/Stella, SOL’s and B&C. These are all available from www.shirtworks.co.uk