Clothes can make us feel good, comfortable, pretty – all of it. Many people also love fashion for its creativity and inspiration. But for most workers in the textiles industry conditions are anything but inspiring.
Asian countries are the main global hub for textiles manufacturing, with more than 40 million people working in the sector. While Fairtrade initially focussed on achieving better terms for cotton growers, in 2016 we introduced the Fairtrade Textile Standard and Programme to reach people at all stages of production – from seed cotton to finished garments.
Choosing Fairtrade textiles makes a difference
Many workers in the garment sector earn below living wage level, which would allow them to feed, house and clothe themselves decently, as well as being able to afford healthcare, education, and transport. The Fairtrade Textile Standard requires that workers are paid living wages within six years of certification – a timeline that was found to be realistic in the standard consultation, given the huge gaps between current wages and living wage level.
Textile workers are often kept from organizing collectively or unaware of their legal rights. The Fairtrade Textile Standard includes strict requirements to ensure freedom of association, so workers can unionize. It also includes criteria for training workers on their rights, democratic representation in the company, and topics such as internal communication and complaints management.
Certified textile factories must have a compliance committee of elected worker representatives in place. The idea is that workers can play an active part in standard implementation, audits, and risk assessments and share the results back with their fellow workers. This way, the company's progress or setbacks are transparent for everyone.
Safety continues to be a challenge in many fashion factories. The Fairtrade Textile Standard sets criteria for safe workplaces and buildings, as well as for the use of protective equipment and safe handling of chemicals. It also specifies which chemicals to avoid and how to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.
Excessive overtime is a well-known issue in the sector which compromises workers' safety and their ability to rest. Under the Fairtrade Textile Standard, working hours are regulated, and so are employment contracts and temporary work. But changing the fashion business can’t be done by local factories alone. Therefore, we make recommendations on fair buying practices for brands and long-term contracts between brands and factories, in order to reduce pressure during peak production times.
Fairtrade Textile Programme
The additional Fairtrade Textile Programme also serves as a tool to support factories on their path towards certification. Independent experts inspect the factories to assess their compliance with labour law, their health and safety requirements, wages, social security measures, environmental protection and productivity. They then recommend steps for improvement.
Fast fashion takes a heavy toll on the people who make the world’s clothes. By choosing garments produced under Fairtrade conditions, you can support workers to make a decent living, stand up for their rights, be safe, and get enough sleep – who wouldn’t want that for themselves or others?
Are you a farmer, worker or business interested in Fairtrade certification?
Fairtrade products are widely available. The blue countries and territories on the map below have Fairtrade organizations that promote Fairtrade products. Their websites often include a product finder to show you the full variety of Fairtrade products near you. Even if there isn't a Fairtrade organization where you live, Fairtrade products may still be available – look for our familiar marks on products!