Thursday, 9 November 2006

Is Fair Trade a good fit for the garment industry?

A Discussion Paper from the Maquila Solidariry Network - September 2006

Fair Trade coffee and bananas are making their way into mainstream markets. But, with the exception of a few alternative trading companies that market clothing manufactured in worker-owned cooperatives or unionized factories as 'sweatfree' or 'Union Made', to date there have been only minimal efforts to create alternative markets for fair trade apparel products. All of that could change with the emergence of a number of new initiatives in North America and Europe in which fair trade and/or labour rights organizations are moving toward the certification of apparel products as 'fair trade' or 'sweatfree'. Can a 'fair trade' apparel brand expand the fight for worker rights or would it reduce the pressure on mainstream apparel companies to change their labour practices? Would fair trade apparel brands finally give consumers an effective way to "vote with their dollars" or could they actually confuse and demobilize consumers? And what will it mean for worker organizing in the apparel industry? The Maquila Solidarity Network explores this emerging debate in the first of an exciting new series of Discussion Papers profiling critical issues, challenges and debates in the labour rights movement as we enter our second decade of activism against sweatshop abuses in the garment and sportswear industries. Download Is Fair Trade a good fit for the garment industry? at We would welcome your comments and are planning to publish alternative perspectives on this important issue on our website. We also welcome suggestions for other themes and/or debates to profile as part of this series. Watch for our next Codes Memo in December assessing developments and trends in voluntary codes of conduct and implementation systems over 2006.

Lynda Yanz,

Maquila Solidarity Network / Ethical Trading Action Group
606 Shaw Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M6G 3L6
416-532-8584 (phone) 416-532-7688 (fax)

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