In the last couple of days I have been thinking about what exactly defines a Fair Trade product? The thought began when someone told me that American Apparel sold Fair Trade clothing. I looked up their website and discovered that all of their clothing is made in LA. The workers are paid really well and they even have an onsite massage therapist for those sitting at sewing machines all day. Their standard is to treat their employees fairly and to make clothes in a "sweat-free" atmosphere. Some people call them a fair trade company, but they are not officially certified by TransFair as having Fair Trade products.
Today I googled "Fair Trade" and it usually lists current items in the news on your selected topic. It led me to an article from the New York Times on a new clothing store called Fair Indigo. It is based out of Wisconsin and advertises its clothing as Fair Trade. Unlike American Apparel, this company employs workers from other countries such as Peru and China to make their clothing. The owner of the company sets high standards on who he employs to make the clothes for his company. The clothing manufacturers must pay their employees above the minimum wage, as even people in Canada don't live that well off of minimum wage. This company is not certified by TransFair either, but they did say that they are working with TransFair USA to develop a certification for Clothing.
The trouble with clothing is that there is a longer supply chain before you get to the acutual clothing product. Fair Indigo doesn't use Fair trade cotton or silk or leather to manufacture their products. They believe that the most impact that they can make to help those in poverty is to pay the clothing manufacturers a fair wage. This is a good part of the reason why TransFair has not certified clothing as Fair Trade. It is a big job to define the criteria for Fair Trade clothing. Products like bannanas, rice or coffee are much easier to certify since they are primary resources. These products don't need to go through any modifications before they are sold.
Personally, I think I would rather buy clothing from Fair Indigo than American Apparel because I believe that it is important to help those in developing countries. On the other hand, you could argue that buying from American Apparel is a more sustainable practice as you are not importing clothing over such long distances and it is better for the environment? Which side of the argument would you take?
Another question is, should TransFair certify clothing? If yes, what are the standards that should be implemented to certify clothing? Should it just be paying workers fairly, or should the company be asked to use fair trade cotton as well?
Yep, it's a lot to think about!
New York Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/25/technology/25ecom.html?ref=business
Fair Indigo: http://www.fairindigo.com/index.php