Fair Trade USA Launches Report on Pilot Apparel Program

A new report compiled by Fair Trade USA’s Multi-Stakeholder Group provides an overview of the recently completed Fair Trade Certified apparel pilot program. The program was launched in 2010 and was the first global program to certify facilities making clothing and accessories with a consumer label to indicate social and environmental sustainability.

The program worked both with cotton farmers and cut-and-sew factory workers. The report concluded that Fair Trade brings direct economic benefits by promoting ethical and sustainable supply chains in the apparel sector. The pilot program lasted two years and certified four factories out of 55 applicants, with four more in the process. A total of 16,000 cotton farmers in India, Egypt and Nicaragua directly benefited from participation in the program, along with 1,300 factory workers in India, Liberia and Costa Rica. Brands that supported the program included prAna, Maggie’s Organics, HAE Now and Good & Fair.

The report says that workers in certified factories earned 15 percent above local minimum wage on average, and up to double the minimum wage in one facility. Besides, distribution of the Fair Trade premium resulted in tangible change in the local community. Impact (as measured by Fair Trade premiums) tripled each year of the program, due to availability of certified products through national channels like REI and Zappos.com.

“Workers had more pride in their work and felt more respected at this factory than at previous jobs,” said Elizabeth O’Connell, Fair Trade Campaigns Director at Green America. “They stressed the importance of being paid on time, and relief that their payments went via direct deposit into their personal bank accounts - something especially important for the women, as their cash wages were often taken by their husbands in the past.”

The full report outlines recommendations from the MSG to address the complexity of the apparel supply chain while maximizing benefits to farmers and workers. It also addresses key issues and challenges faced during the pilot period. One challenge economic costs leading to higher price tags for brands. This resulted in brands being slow to participate in the pilot and to adopt Fair Trade in a significant way, making it difficult to assess impact on a large scale.

Image credit: Fair Trade USA