In recent years, we have been lucky to have free trade being gradually implemented all around us. Free trade has given us many amazing opportunities for innovation and improved the lives of countless workers and their family's standards of living. Unfortunately, one of the downsides has also led to the incremental moving of many manufacturing productions to third-world countries and developing countries which evidently increased the issues of the exploitation of some workers.
The Fair Trade Movement initially started back in the 40s and 50s in North America and Europe where the British-founded confederation was selling products made by Chinese refugees and started initiatives to get those workers paid fairly and given proper working conditions. What is fair trade clothing and why should we really care about fair trade clothing productions in 2022?
What is Fair Trade?
Fair Trade is a term often used but we don’t necessarily stop and give a good thought about what it means.
Put simply, the fair trade movement is a movement; a way of thinking that brands adhere to and ensure that manufacturers, producers, and workers can achieve “sustainable” trade relationships with brands along with making sure workers are being treated and paid fairly. This enables everyone in the production chain to work in ethical and sustainable conditions while having the opportunity to improve their livelihoods.
It also means that child labour is never used and working hours are to be fair and within the industry norms.
Fair trade is better achieved by removing the intermediaries or middle-man and by buying products and raw fabrics directly from the artisans who make them. When you buy a fair trade product, you can be certain that a fair portion will go to the artisans, enabling them to afford things that we normally take for granted like a decent livable home, healthcare services, and a proper education for themselves and their families.
The movement usually primarily focuses on exported products from developing countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India to developed countries like the US and European countries.
Some of the benefits of buying fair trade clothing include:
Every participant in the chain will be paid equitably.
No workers are exploited or forced to work against their will to manufacture a product.
Absolutely no child labour is taking place.
The working conditions throughout the production chain are within the laws on paper and in practice.
There are tangible efforts made to protect the environment.
Active plans are made for the improvement of the underdeveloped country's economy.
Transparency, clear and concise communication is done between brands and producers.
What Does Fair Trade in the Clothing Industry Look Like?
In today’s world, where fast fashion is becoming more and more prevalent as companies become more hungry for a quick profit at the loss of workers and artisans, many people who work in the clothing industry are sadly exploited, well-underpaid and not given proper working conditions. Fair trade, often referred to as Slow-Fashion in the clothing industry, was born to help prevent this from happening.
The fair trade movement in the fashion and clothing industry provides a set of guidelines for brands to adhere to and will ensure that manufacturers workers and artisans work in ethical conditions, have enough time to spend with their families, and get fair remuneration for their work and the possibility of health and insurance benefits.
Like many aspects of the clothing production chain, the textiles and raw fabrics production can have a negative impact on the environment if profit-driven methods are used to produce the textiles. The use of harsh chemicals and agricultural agents can become a big issue for the local population nearby if they are not disposed of properly or used in an unsafe way for the environment. A lot of people by now have seen what kind of impact the improper disposal of wastewater has in China, a river so blady tainted by the jeans factories that it made the river appear black/ blue from satellite imagery.
There are many programs out there now such as GOTS, Better Cotton, Oeko-tex that are working hard at giving perimeters and guidelines to industry manufacturers on how to produce textiles and raw fabrics safely and sustainably for the environment. In the long run, programs like those can only benefit everybody involved and lead to a safer and cleaner environment as well as a more sustainable fashion industry.
Why Should You Care About Fair Trade Fashion?
It is a fair assessment that consumers would not want to intentionally have producers and workers neglect the environment to simply be able to wear a nice piece of clothing. It should be our responsibility as consumers to make sure we make an effort to not purchase clothing that may have long-term harmful effects on the environment and the persons involved in the process of creating the products.
But truth be told, It can sometimes be a challenge to find fair trade clothing at a fair price. Yes, fair trade fashion can cost more but there should be a happy medium for consumers and producers. So the real question is: why is fair trade clothing worth the extra cost and effort?
Reduces Global Poverty and Inequality in the Workforce
Not only is there an unfortunate and tremendous wealth gap in today’s society, but too often, impoverished areas are often heavily polluted. Those areas are most likely lacking the proper infrastructure to dispose of harmful wastewater and people living around them have reduced access to resources and opportunities. Many fast fashion brands are keeping consumer prices low by using unfair practices and exploiting labour workforces for their own profits with a complete disregard for the environmental impact.
By spending a bit more on your clothing and making sure that you purchase from verified trusted brands, you’re helping to improve living conditions for artisans in underdeveloped countries and mitigating the negative impacts on the environment.
Makes a Positive Impact on the Environment
The laws and standards of practice within the fair trade workplaces are in place to protect workers and artisans. It means eliminating the use of hazardous chemicals or managing the proper ways to dispose of them, as well as reducing the use of harmful pesticides and herbicides in agriculture while creating raw materials.
Fair trade standards of practices also include some environmental protections in the certification process. Those measures are put in place to protect workers who can potentially be exposed to harmful chemicals and benefit the environment.
As consumers, we increasingly want to get more information about the origins of the clothing we purchase. Being able to answer some important questions about where and how the raw materials were produced, who made them and which method was used to process them is critical for brands to differentiate themselves from green-washed fast–fashion brands. The brands who are doing it right nowadays are focusing their efforts on being as transparent as possible to their customers. In a world where it is becoming easier and easier to fake it until you make it, access to this kind of information is crucial for the legitimacy of a brand in the sustainable and ethical fashion industry.