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What Does it Mean to be Fair Trade Clothing?

Exciting things are happening in the fashion industry. We as a culture are waking up to the harsh realities and labor problems in sweatshops, abusive employment, and human trafficking. We’re excited about ethical fashion as a replacement for the problems of fast fashion, but with so many buzzwords and terms we’re still asking: What does it mean to be Fair Trade clothing?

Asking Questions

You are asking the right questions. This is where change can begin.

When you begin to wonder and ask these questions, your perspective changes.

  • Who made this piece of clothing?
  • In what kind of a facility?
  • How were they treated? Did they get breaks? Could they stop for lunch?
  • How much were they paid? Is that normal for their community?
  • Did they have a say in their employment arrangement?

If you have seen international news over the past few years, no doubt you are aware of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh – a disaster which could have been prevented if the company respected basic human rights and labor rights.

The terrible tragedy at Rana Plaza, and the precious 1134 lives lost, have been the catalyst for a worldwide movement of committed people – who decided that fellow humans should not have to put their lives on the line to make fashionable clothing for you and I.

In response, there have been outcries and backlash. New standards and new transparencies put in place. We have learned much from Rana Plaza and similar factories like it.

The Slow Fashion movement is creating awareness and inspiring more of us to act on these issues.

Unfortunately, the problem continues still in some parts of the world. In developing countries where labor is not tightly regulated, it is difficult to guarantee that workers were cared for even if laws exist.

Fortunately, there is a better way.

Fair Trade Has Some Answers

With the rising interest in ethical clothing, Fair Trade brands are receiving much more attention and well-deserved praise.

What does it mean to be Fair Trade clothing?

Ideally, it means workers are given dignity and respect as people. Breaks for meals and to use the restroom are part of the workday.

Fair Trade clothing means that the hours of the workday are limited, that an employer cannot force an impoverished laborer to perform work beyond established normal hours.

It also means that children are protected, and there is NO child labor in Fair Trade companies. Children should be free to be in school, and this is made possible when their parents are paid fairly.

In addition, you empower women when you buy Fair Trade clothing. In many parts of the world, women cannot work or advance in careers. Because Fair Trade companies give women opportunities to succeed, Fair Trade companies are making progress on this balance – in fact, 52% of Fair Trade companies have women CEOs.

Fair Trade also sets out, as a system, to expand skills and build the abilities of the workers in its supply chain. Fair Trade cooperatives are great places where people can use leadership skills and develop teams and processes as they work together.

Who Makes Sure?

How do we know this is true? How do we know that Fair Trade practices are upheld?

This is where a certifying agency comes in. A good certifier has a long-term relationship with the workers and makers, and they perform periodic audits to make sure that all the Fair Trade standards are in place.

If your favorite clothing brand claims to be ethical but is not certified Fair Trade, ask them why and ask them to explain their standards in detail. Posting a sign on the wall (a response once given by a major retailer) is not enough to guarantee that workers are treated fairly.

A Variety of Steps

In the making of an item of clothing, there are several steps, and several parts that could be Fair Trade.

Fair Trade Sewing means exactly that – the people who put the garment together are working under fair standards. But the source of the fabric or other materials is not known or may not be regulated.

Fair Trade Cotton also is clear – the fabric came from a place where the farmers and workers operate with Fair Trade standards.

Hopefully, your next clothing purchases will be both. True Fair Trade means that everyone in the entire supply chain was treated well and paid a fair wage, so that moms can care for their children and provide for their families.

Basic Human Rights

These standards are basic human rights. If you are asking how the situation got as bad as Rana Plaza, the short answer is this – for far too long, profits have triumphed over people.

When we ask questions and make choices that put people first, we can all win in the process of buying and selling.

Sometimes this may cost a little more. But your spending a little more so that workers and artisans can live better lives is a price you will feel good about.

And someday, if we each keep taking steps, maybe together we can change the fashion world.


Join our journey in living life fair! You can start by exploring our online Fair Trade store.

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