30 September, 2014

#Befair: Fairness in fashion has to come now

People Tree 600 x 400
by Safia Minney, founder and CEO of People Tree.

With the launch of our Great British Fairness Debate this week, Safia Minney – founder and CEO of fair trade and sustainable fashion label People Tree – looks at what role we can all play to promote fairness in business and beyond...

Being fair trade sounds so self-righteous, but being ‘decent’ somehow doesn’t – it captures a sense of being honest, straightforward, respectful or modest even. This is what fair means to me. When I realised at 17 that politicians, policy makers and big businesses were not in any way looking after the health of society or trade, I realised that left the responsibility with citizens like you and me to create a fairer society, fairer business relations and campaign for social and environmental justice. I wanted to spend every pound I could fairly. 

At first it was tough – as a ‘green, ethical consumer’ back in the early 90s there weren’t many fair trade and organic foods or fashions around so I sought them out and supported these fledgling businesses. 

Then I started designing fair trade fashion myself with organic farmers – from the fibre in the field through to the weaving community and factories that turned it into cloth and clothing. One thought played on my mind: what is unfair fashion and how can fair trade fashion empower farmers, artisans and tailors? I visited garment workers in slums and heard their stories of hardship and suffering because buyers would not pay a fair price for their labour. 

Worse still, our unaccountable international trading system leaves people disabled by industrial accidents fit only for begging. Fairness in fashion has to come now, and with all eyes on it after the tragedy of Rana Plaza, full transparency and accountability for consumers to be sure their money is supporting people and planet in a responsible way. 

After 20 years of growing People Tree, a fair trade and sustainable fashion company, I’m convinced that the only way is to make directors of our companies legally responsible for their business and trade activities. Fairness in fashion comes when everyone pays the real cost of producing clothing – paying the people who make it fairly and not stripping out the fertility of our ecosystem.

The fairness test is a bit of fun – reflecting on your capacity for love and your limitations, which is a good thing!

The survey results are interesting but not as interesting as the structural unfairness of no ‘queue’ for the rich and an increasingly long and difficult ‘queue’ for the poor and middle classes! There’s always someone less fortunate. 

The Fairness survey found that 24% of the public do not leave tips in restaurants. I think it is sometimes ’fair’ not to leave a tip after service as long as we’re not just procrastinating in the distribution of our money, caring and love.

We can use the tip to get a copy of The Big Issue or support farmers by buying a fair trade tea or coffee.





Safia Minney, founder and CEO of People Tree. Safia has turned a lifelong interest in environment, trade and social justice issues into an award-winning social business. Safia is widely regarded as a leader in the fair trade movement and has been awarded Outstanding Social Entrepreneur by the World Economic Forum’s Schwarb Foundation and an MBE for her work.


Fairtrade Blog