You may be familiar with the ‘Fair Trade Certified’ symbol, and its assurance that some of the money spent on a bag of coffee or a bar of chocolate goes directly to its producers and stays in their community. Patagonia, in partnership with Fair Trade USA, now makes clothes that provide the same benefit.
The programme is simple: for every Fair Trade Certified item that is sewn, Patagonia pays a premium and the money goes into an account the workers control. This is not a top-down programme, but one run in each case by a democratically elected Fair Trade worker committee that decides how the funds will be used, be it social, economic or environmental.
Patagonia started small in autumn 2014, with 11 yoga styles being made at Pratibha Syntex in India. This worked well enough that the programme could grow to 33 styles the following spring, then to 192 last autumn. By this winter, Patagonia’s participation in the Fair Trade Certified programme will have expanded to more than 3,000 styles, including the Better Sweater fleece, one of the largest-volume styles, and to new factories in India, Thailand, Columbia, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Mexico.
Collectively, over $430,000 has now been paid out to more than 7,000 workers by Patagonia. And how did the workers vote? One group started a child care centre, another purchased raincoats to wear to and from work during the monsoon season, and workers at yet another factory elected to take a cash bonus equivalent to one to three weeks’ pay.
Fair Trade’s approach generates both better pay and employee participation in the life of the community. It also helps create better working conditions and safeguards against the use of child labour. Dialogue is another important aspect of Fair Trade. Pratibha, upon learning that Fair Trade community members were considering spending some of their premium to build a cooking facility, recognised this as a need it should provide and paid for a new kitchen from company funds.
One last benefit falls not to the workers, the factory or Patagonia as a brand, but to the customer who buys a Fair Trade Certified garment. Every purchase is a vote, with the wallet, for good values – an all too rare opportunity in our global economy.