Sustainability, eco and going green are all buzz words in our society right now. As veganism gets cooler, enforced by social media hipsters, becoming environmentally friendly is increasingly on the rise. But, when it comes to the fashion industry, what does Fair Trade really mean? And when manufacturing in Europe, surely trading fairly is the norm?
What is Fair Trade when it comes to fashion?
Fair Trade is all about creating better working conditions for manufacturers, ensuring they receive higher, fairer prices for their goods, as well as achieving benefits for underprivileged communities to grow and thrive. There are 10 principles for Fair Trade:
- Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
- Transparency and accountability
- Fair trading practices (concern for social, environmental and economic well-being of marginalised, small producers)
- Payment of a fair price
- Ensuring no child labour or forced labour
- Commitment to non-discrimination, gender equity and women’s economic empowerment and freedom of association
- Ensuring good working conditions
- Providing capacity building
- Promoting fair trade
- Respect for the environment
In essence, Fair Trade is the trading of goods under the above regulations to ensure fairness and economic growth to the communities of the producers.
When it comes to fashion, fast fashion has grown exponentially over the last decade, with retailers such as Zara, who hold little to no stock and turn over inexpensive fashion very quickly. The rise of Fair Trade has encouraged a movement towards slow fashion, which is very much the opposite of these industry trends. Slow fashion is working towards longer lead times, producing higher quality and more expensive fashion, that lasts longer.
UK consumers now spend over £384 million a year on eco-fashion and more and more fashion producers and retailers are opting to source to Fair Trade standards. However, it’s important to also remember that a brand can source Fair Trade cotton or fabric and then manufacture abroad in an unregulated factory, which may not be ethically certified. This means that consumers wishing to move to Fair Trade might have to do a little more research than it first appears.
How is Fair Trade regulated?
There are organisations throughout the world looking at and standardising Fair Trade. The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) is a global network of hundreds of these organisations. European organisations include UK BAFTS (British Association for Fair Trade Shops) and EFTA (European Fair Trade Association). Each organisation uses different methods to monitor the standards of their members, so each one must be individually checked to see how developed their execution is, but there is not one central standardisation for Fair Trade.
A European Focus
Most consumers will agree that Fair Trade is clearly a positive and essential initiative to ensure underprivileged workers are paid and treated correctly and fairly. However, when it comes to European manufacturing for fashion, the European standards and regulations for fairness and safety are already in place to be able to trade across the continent. Therefore, we must ask ourselves, are European manufacturers and buyers, using the Fair Trade stamp as a buzz word, or a gimmick? Should it really even be mentioned when it doesn’t concern these underprivileged communities?
Growth and change is fundamental within all industries, including fashion. However, we mustn’t get caught up in using a vital economic standard as a catch-phrase or keyword and remember the true meaning behind classifying as Fair Trade.