New Fairtrade Standard will not benefit garment workers

Fairtrade International announced to publish its new Fairtrade Textile Standard on 22 March 2016. Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) raised concerns and gave detailed input during the Standard’s development and remains critical today. In order to improve working conditions, a sector-wide approach is needed and corporate behavior has to change, not only some selected supply chains.

The CCCs main concerns include:

1. Product label approach is not the right tool for this industry

The Fairtrade Textile Standard, as a product label-approach, is limited to individual selected supply chains of the company and does not cover its entire business activities. Working for more than 25 years in this area, Clean Clothes Campaign believes that the existing problems in the industry can only be solved if companies change comprehensively their corporate behavior and if there is a sector-wide approach to tackle underlying root causes that lead to labour and human rights violations. The standard does not sufficiently address the challenges in the garment industry and even risks slowing down progress made in the last few years. A product label approach is problematic because it allows brands to pick and choose and to create one “fairtrade” product in one supply chain while carrying on with business as usual in all other supply chains.

2. The Standard diverts responsibility away from brands

The new Fairtrade Textile Standard is quite comprehensive, but it does not hold brands responsible for respecting decent labour conditions, and it does not guarantee that all workers involved in making a brand`s products are paid a living wage. The Standard includes complex and costly requirements for factories, but does not require brands to commit to real change in terms of their purchasing and operating practices.

3. A Standard relying on inspections and certification is dangerous

Crucial for any standard are its delivery and assessment mechanisms. Fairtrade International bases its assessment almost entirely on social auditing, even though this has been repeatedly proven not to adequately assess workplace practices, let alone to trigger systemic change. CCC sees little elements that suggest that the standard would bring more concrete results than other existing social standards. Fairtrade International wants to implement the Standard with support programs. In order to really have influence and tackle the far-reaching challenges, a big and long-term effort is needed. It remains unclear how such programs would be financed in the long run.

4. Marking garments as “fairtrade” without paying a living wage is unacceptable and misleads consumers

The Fairtrade Textile Standard allows an implementation period of six years for a living wage. The standard foresees that the factory management has to sign an implementation plan with workers representatives, but the factory has no guarantee that the buyers stay as prices go up. If the burden of implementing a living wage lies entirely on the supplier, CCC fears that no factory management will commit to such a plan. Brands need to play a central role in reaching a living wage. Marking garments as 'fairtrade' before a living wage has actually been paid to the workers is unacceptable for CCC. It is misleading for consumers and allows for disproportionate marketing benefits for brands.