Who Controls the Fair Trade Clothing Industry and How is it Governed?

Fair Trade movement, from the inside out!

While so many brands are emerging under the Fair Trade movement, there is also a lot of confusion around the concept. To begin with, is Fair Trade just a label or the movement that the label embodies? Austin Cobb, from Made in Freedom, explains What Fair Trade is, Who controls the Fair Trade clothing industry, and How it is governed. The very essentials to buy Fair Trade fashion or if you are planning to start your ethical brand!

One of the most frequently asked questions that we get at Made in Freedom is, “Who controls the Fair Trade clothing industry?”

who controls fair trade movement organisation workers

It is a fair question (no pun intended), and it doesn’t always come from a skeptic. Even the most trusting people have to stop and think about how trustworthy “Fair Trade” actually is to them. In order to put people’s minds at ease, we wanted to take this opportunity to answer this question as clearly as possible.

Fair Trade is a Movement

We won’t take the time to do a full history of Fair Trade. That information can be found in plenty of other places. What we do want to make clear from the beginning is that Fair Trade is a movement. It is not just a label, a seal, or a certification. It is not a gimmick to make more sales or a marketing tool. Fair Trade is action, a positive step toward a fairer worldwide trading platform.

We make this distinction because it can easily be misunderstood. When one sees a Fair Trade certified product, one may often associate the product with the label it carries rather than the movement that the label embodies. However, it is important that we remember that these labels were created to serve the movement, not the other way around. The seals and labels were created as a means of communication, a way to signal to the buyer what they were supporting through their purchase. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, people began associating the term “Fair Trade” with a label or seal that could simply be purchased and added to product packaging. However, we can assure you that this is far from the truth.

who controls fair trade movement organisation quote

Fair Trade Control is Just FINE

So then, who is in charge of governing the many Fair Trade organizations across the world? The answer is FINE.

FINE is the informal association dedicated to Fair Trade. We can think of it as the Fair Trade watchdog. FINE was created in 1998 to bring harmony and agreement to the world of Fair Trade and is an acronym of the first letters of the 4 Fair Trade organizations that make up the association.

F Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO)

I International Fair Trade Association, now the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)

N Network of European World Shops (NEWS!)

E European Fair Trade Association (EFTA)

These organizations came together to put structure around a previously somewhat loose ideal, and provide a basis and starting point for standardization and education. With a shared common goal, these 4 organizations knew that a core set of standards had to be created outside of each individual organization in order to bring trust and understanding to the Fair Trade movement.

Before that though, each org had to be in agreement as to the meaning of Fair Trade. In 2001, FINE created the following definition for Fair Trade:

“Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions and securing the rights of marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”

who controls fair trade movement organisation WFTO

In addition to this definition, FINE added the following 3 points to further shape the overall strategic intent of Fair Trade:

  • deliberately to work with marginalized producers and workers in order to help them move from a position of vulnerability to security and economic self-sufficiency,
  • to empower producers and workers as stakeholders in their own organizations,
  • actively to play a wider role in the global arena to achieve greater equity in international trade. (source: Wikipedia)

infographic ethical clothing t-shirt supplychain fair trade

While it’s true that there is no “rule” that a Fair Trade organization must embody all of these qualities, those that do not are marginalized and are not held in as high regard as those that do. If the Fair Trade clothing industry was a party, the organizations that meet the FINE requirements would be the people that get an invitation. Sure, without an invitation you might be able to sneak in, but you’ll most likely be thrown out by the bouncer.

As you may understand, this is one reason we are so proud that each and every one of our T-Shirts at Made in Freedom carries the World Fair Trade Organization label, as well as being made in accordance with the Global Organic Textile Standard. Not only that, but our T-Shirts are also made by women who have been freed from a future in the sex-trade of Kolkata, India.

This is the new standard for basic fashion – a future of freedom provided through love, courage, and compassion – and we would love for you to join us.

A really great campaign you should also look into is Who Made My Clothes!

Other articles you’ll love:

    1. Stories and itineraries of fair trade handbags in India
    2. Transparent shopping experience of sustainable fashion
    3. Sea of People the platform making ethical fashion shopping easy & accessible 
    4. A snapshot of modern slavery in the fashion industry
    5. Fair trade matters. Garments aren’t born in stores!

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Austin Cobb

Austin Cobb is the marketing specialist for Made in Freedom, a textile company based in Southwest Germany. Made in Freedom sells organic and Fairtrade certified T-Shirts that are hand stitched by women in India who have been freed from a future in the sex-trade of Calcutta. With the help of our partner in India, these women are rescued and given training and jobs that pay well above the national minimum wage, securing a future of freedom and hope.

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