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With a growing interest in shopping ethically, we have an increasing amount of claims and labels to decipher when shopping with our ethics in mind. The terms “fair trade” and “ethical” and an associated certification logo can give us confidence. But sometimes, a mist of confusion remains. So we’d like to share with you some common fair trade claims and certifications you might find when shopping in Australia, and how to decipher them.
The term “fair trade” refers to trade practices that follow a set of principles, based on the UN Declaration of Human Rights, and then some more specific International Labour Organization (ILO) Conventions. Fair trade is about taking the exploitation out of the current global trade system and transforming it into a trade that properly values the people and skills required to make the products that we trade.
The fair trade movement has been increasing in momentum as awareness of labour issues and exploitation within industries increases. As one would hope, as awareness grows, so can demand and, in turn, supply for products that guarantee some assurance of protection and support the rights of workers in a supply chain.
So you may have noticed the availability and variety of such products and brands increasing. But let’s not pretend that shopping for fairly traded products is not confusing at times. In the fashion and apparel industry alone, there are a plethora of labels and certifications to catch you off guard. Just when you think you have it all nicely covered, another pops up on a shopping search, making you question what makes each one differ, and why we even need so many.
You may have also noticed, along with the term “fair trade clothing”, that the term “ethical clothing” has been popping up as brands qualify their products with these terms. What does it even mean? Sometimes “ethical” is used synonymously with “fair trade”, however it can mean more, less or something completely different to what you were looking for.
The reality is, what is defined as “ethical” depends entirely on your values. That is, the ethics by which you live and make your decisions. For Fairtees, what we define as “ethical” includes for us principles of social responsibility (such fair trade) as well as environmental responsibility. But ethical could mean all of this, some of this, generosity with profits, vegan or any other values or combination of values that guide an ethical framework. For this reason, if you want the products you buy to be made in a way that align with your own set of values, it’s always good to read into what a brand’s ethical values are. It also helps to have some understanding of what the different certifications are all about. For a discussion on this, see “Ethical Clothing: What does that mean?”
Just within Australia’s clothing industry, there are quite a few fair trade certification labels. (Of course, because of the fact that our society relies on importing and exporting, you will come across labels from across the globe.) Broadly speaking, fair trade claims will mostly fall within the following two categories:
These may not come with a certification label. But for most small brands that operate in this way, you can find a good explanation on their website about how they do business with their producers. A direct relationship between producers and designers makes it possible for the designers to make claims based on a personal account of the relationship. I would tend to trust those who make this information easily accessible and clear, rather than just leaving it in vague, ‘what-you-want-to-hear’ statements.
A good producer/designer relationship that operates within a human rights framework and upholds in practice the relevant ILO conventions is something worth supporting. Some proponents of a fair trade world advocate this as the best form of trade. However, not all businesses have the capacity to operate in this way. It generally only works for designers who can retail their own brand directly to the consumer.
Some of these brands have their own certification system and label for their fair trade practices.
Now this is where you’ll see a certification label. Due to our globalised way of trading and shopping, a supply chain from producer to end-user (before reusing, upcycling and recycling of course!) in not always so simple. There can be a few steps in between. For example, a cotton t-shirt may have it’s cotton grown in one place, processed into fabric in another, made into a garment in yet another (while being designed elsewhere again), shipped onto the designer/supply brand, sold to a retailer in another place, then sold to the end-user. So it makes sense to have these kinds of certification systems, where checks are made to ensure fair trade principles are upheld in practice throughout a more complex supply chain. This system can provide assurance for all involved in the product chain, from textile farmer all the way to the person who wears the garment.
Most fair trade certification labels are trying to achieve essentially the same thing: a fairer world on industry where producers are valued equal to consumers. They just tend to vary in how they go about achieving this, based on what are believed to be the most effective methods within the industries in which they operate. Their websites are generally full of information, so you can look them up, how they operate, what their goals and ideals are, and feel quite confident that you know what you are getting when you buy something with their label.
Of course, fair trade certification systems really relies on the consumers to feel this way too, since the system is upheld by demand for fairly made products. So it’s really up to each of us to vote on what we want with our choices each time we purchase a garment.
Specialising in clothing, this is a label for clothing brands who make their products (or some of their products) in Australia, and those products are accredited by ECA according to their standards.
Working across many industries, Fairtrade Australia & New Zealand is our local branch of the of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO), or Fairtrade International. They have arguably the most recognised label in Australia, perhaps partly because of their obvious name, and perhaps also their certifications across multiple industries, making them more visible in supermarket aisles.
Focusing on clothing, FWF is an international certification body for clothing labels, providing the support, monitoring and reporting for clothing production companies to achieve FWF fair trade labour standard goals, including that of a living wage, which is more than a minimum wage to survive, but includes enough for savings.
WFTO works internationally across many industries. In order to improve fair trade practices in the supply chain, members are required to comply with its WFTO Standard criteria and follow its Code of Practice, as well as continually improve in some non-mandatory requirements.
FTAANZ is not actually a certification scheme, but a community for its members to interact and promote the FLO and WFTO systems of fair trade. I have included it here because you will see it around, especially if you are trying to shop for fairly traded products, and it is good to know how it fits in with the rest.
We hope this concise rundown help you with your shopping, as you continue to support a global trade system that is fair for all.