The challenges within the global textile industry are huge. Since the introduction of Fairtrade certified cotton in 2005, Fairtrade has been tackling the question of how to extend the Fairtrade approach to the entire value supply chain for textiles. As a result, we recently launched the Fairtrade Textile Standard and the textile programme, with the goal of improving the living and working conditions of textile workers throughout the whole supply chain and strengthen their rights.
Several articles – based on quotes from the Clean Clothes Campaign – have appeared, criticizing Fairtrade’s approach.
Fairtrade doesn’t think those concerns are justified because our new approach is innovative and different in a number of ways. No other standard or approach covers the entire production chain, goes beyond compliance with core labour rights (ILO Labour Standards) to strengthen workers' position to be able to collectively protect their rights (through training, support for workers to form or strengthen a union or other workers' organization), requires a living wage, or offers a comprehensive on-site support programme:
Fairtrade approach goes beyond auditing
Fairtrade does not just rely on audits, but will provide comprehensive on-site training to help companies and workers achieve and maintain certification. Fairtrade has developed an extensive textile programme which includes consulting and training at the factories and production sites. We have already carried out preliminary assessments which show the gap between the current conditions in the factories and the Fairtrade standard is bigger than anticipated. This is also the case where other certification schemes are already in place. Fairtrade agrees that certification and audits by themselves are not sufficient, and that consultation and training is essential. In addition to social and economic criteria, improvement is especially needed in health and safety protection, environmental management, support of young employees, freedom of assembly and complaint management. The textile programme will support these improvements with the help of local experts, training workshops, mentoring by local Fairtrade consultants, trade unions, training centers and other external partners.
Transparent communication for consumers The standard will stipulate that all parties involved in the supply chain must pay living wages to their employees within six years. This makes the Fairtrade Textile Standard the first standard ever to set a time target for achieving living wages. What’s more, there must be visible improvements from the first year on, and these will be monitored during the audit. Thus the standard adopts a policy of developing over time and progress will be measured over one, three and six years. This realistic approach to achieving the criteria recognizes that is a challenging process. Demanding that living wages should be paid immediately would result in companies becoming uncompetitive, and this in turn would result in punishing those companies who are willing to implement the standard by forcing them out of the market. Fairtrade therefore believes that it is important to give these companies reasonable time to adjust.
The new Fairtrade Textile Production Mark and messaging guidelines are designed to be as specific and transparent as possible for consumers and other audiences.
Transparent messaging will show the compliance level that the company or brand has achieved for its supply chain. On-product communication is only allowed when the entire supply chain is fully certified against the Fairtrade Textile Standard. The compulsory messaging is designed so that consumers are able to see if a given product was produced in a supply chain in which living wages have already been achieved, or if there is progress towards living wages (in accordance with the six year timeline). A short overview about our labeling guidelines can be found on our website: http://www.fairtrade.net/fileadmin/user_upload/content/2009/standards/documents/generic-standards/2016_03_ft_textiles_labeling_quick_guide.pdf.
Longterm commitment and rules for brands
Fairtrade wholeheartedly agrees that responsibility can’t only be demanded from factories but also and most important from brands. It is thus important for ordering companies to act responsibly by means of fair and responsible purchasing practices and long-term contractual partnerships, which are essential for living wages to be reached and maintained long-term.
The Textile Standard therefore includes recommended purchasing practices for brands to make partnerships with providers possible.
We have consulted extensively with many stakeholders and organizations throughout the entire supply chain and Fairtrade always encourages open debate about any of its work and - the textile standard and programme is no different. The textile industry is a highly challenging sector and we will of course continue to work to make sure we get it right and we welcome constructive input and cooperation.
Fairtrade International: Giovanna Schmidt, Communications Officer, Fairtrade International, +49 228 949 23 236 / +49 172 541 6076, firstname.lastname@example.org