Exploring Fair Trade Apparel

Fair Trade USA (formerly TransFair USA) and its initiative, Fair Trade For All, aims to expand fair trade certification beyond small organized farmers to agriculture and factory workers, including the apparel sector. Fair World Project (FWP) has chronicled Fair Trade USA’s poor track record in recent years, including the decision to unilaterally change its name, resignation from the international fair trade system, imposing fair trade coffee plantations on the market, fair washing in body care, and multi-ingredient products.

FTUSA’s apparel program

Fair Trade USA moved ahead with their apparel program that relies heavily on a hired worker audit in factory setting despite the fact that they had no labor groups on their advisory committee and in fact several labor groups voiced serious concern about the substance and accountability to stakeholders. In addition, there was limited farmer representation on the advisory committee. FTUSA is creating a solution for a problem that never existed. A number of ethical apparel programs already exist (Ethical Trading Initiative, Workers Rights Consortium, World Fair Trade Organization, Social Accountability International, etc.). At the same time, they do not adequately solve a program for which fair trade exists, that is creating market opportunities for impoverished small-scale farmers and artisans. FTUSA standard and services do not improve upon existing hired labor factory programs, but dilute fair trade and confuse consumers.

Not only was feedback from core stakeholders like labor unions and anti-sweatshop activists largely ignored, FTUSA’s two pilot factories, Rajlakshmi, and Esteam, received scathing reports from the Workers Rights Consortium. Both reports can be found here and here.

FWP released a statement November 5th, 2013 about FTUSA’s “Apparel Program” highlighting key problems with the program’s operation and scope, specifically no requirement for fair trade raw materials, sub-par standards, and only limited portions of the supply chain covered despite claims to the contrary. We’ll explore each of these critiques further in a series of blog posts next week, starting with the premise that social audits are not fair trade. Stay tuned.

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