Fair( )trade

Fair trade: The more I think about it the more confusing it gets. I learnt a lot more about it at the social labelling conference from people who work for the key fair trade organisations. First there’s the fact that fair trade, and Fairtrade are not the same. This I did know before – fair trade is a generic term which anyone can use, whereas Fairtrade is a certifying organisation – proof that it is fair trade. What I hadn’t quite grasped before, I’m ashamed to say, was the limits of Fairtrade within apparel. Basically that when a t-shirt says ‘Fairtrade certified cotton’ it is literally just the cotton growing stage that is certified Fairtrade, not in fact the cotton processing stage or t-shirt manufacture stage. Makes sense now, but it’s so easy to just assume. It just seems strange that this is the case, and worth shouting about, when much of the labour intensive part is perhaps the sewing of the garment. I suppose it links on from the fact that the Fairtrade foundation’s most successful area is food, which comes straight from the farmer to us almost. Indeed they only developed the Fairtrade cotton standard in 2004 so perhaps the standard will develop and grow in due course, but if I hadn’t grasped that fact in full, no wonder other consumers are confused.

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Social Labelling Conference

Last week I went to an ethical fashion conference held at Northumbria University. It was focused on social labelling which is very relevent to my MPhil thesis question, ‘How to communicate the environmental and social impacts of producing a cotton t-shirt to the consumer at point of sale’. There were representatives there from FAIRTRADE, People Tree, Workers Rights Consortium and many more, but what was really interesting was to find PhD students studying such similiar topics to me! It becomes easy to think that I’m the only one doing research in my field, but that is of course not true, especially as it is such a current issue. Having said that, we were all approaching it in different ways.

I picked up on a lot of new information and will have to spend time going back through my literature review to add these details. What really struck me is the amount of work going on to help the conditions for workers globally, and the number of barriers that they face. I also realised that if I want to start my own label in the future, there is a lot of support out there to help me find an ethical way of manufacturing products. I’ll update the blog as I go through my notes and the conference papers.

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