Using Our Consumer Power to Fight for Garment Workers During COVID-19

Submitted by ctate on May 12, 2020

COVID-19 has turned nearly everything on its head. Many businesses are closed; many individuals have lost their jobs; and so much seems uncertain. But big retailers with complex logistics networks, like Amazon or Walmart, seem to be thriving in this new context; while many small businesses are struggling. And with this, shopping ethically is even more important in the new normal.

We have an opportunity to reshape how our society operates – to create a society that prioritizes the planet, workers, and people over profit, which is something Green America and the fair trade movement have been advocating for over the years.

Using your purchasing power to prioritize companies that understand profits aren’t the only thing that matters can help to facilitate the transition to a new, better normal.

As COVID-19 sweeps the world and our structural injustices are put into plain view, it is even more important to support one another, and when possible, for consumers to use their purchasing power to create demand for more ethically produced goods. Looking for fair trade businesses is one way to accomplish this.

While many industries have or will be impacted by COVID-19, some industries have been hit particularly hard, like the garment industry. For decades corporations have failed to pay garment workers a living wage. Pushing unreasonably low prices down the supply chain results in low wages and a de-prioritization of health and safety measures. Thus, when a global pandemic happens, these harmful corporate practices have jeopardized millions of garment workers around the world.

For some, the situation is so dire that: “if we stay at home, we may save ourselves from the virus,” garment worker Sajedul Islam told AFP. “But who will save us from starvation?” Most garment workers live in countries where there is no safety net, and they may risk their lives if they try to unionize their factories or advocate for fair treatment.

Many apparel brands have refused to pay for cancelled orders – further jeopardizing workers. The Worker Rights Consortium has developed a tracker to monitor which brands are or are not acting responsibly during these times.  Brand names like Walmart, Gap and Kohl’s have not made commitments to pay for orders.

So, what can you do?

  • When shopping for clothing or any products, try to prioritize those companies that operate under the fair trade principles. Not sure where to start? Take a look at our green business directory! You’ll find options for women, men, and children in a variety of styles. Many of our green business members are also leaders in the fair trade movement.
  • Fairtrade America also has a great directory of their business partners.
  • Fair Trade Federation has a great fashion showcase as well.
  • And, do your own research into your favorite businesses! See how that business is prioritizing paying those that make their products fairly; how they are ensuring safe work environments during the pandemic; and how they are continuing to prioritize the health of our planet.

When you make Fair Trade purchases you are supporting:

A Fair Price for Products

The rise in interest in fair trade led to the development of fair trade certification. Certifications like Fairtrade America and Fair Trade USA (formerly known as TransFair USA) certify parts of a company's supply chain/product line to ensure that minimum standards related to labor, sustainability, and more are met. Fair trade prohibits forced labor, child labor, and discrimination, and protects freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. If child labor should surface, remediation guidelines are in place. In order to use the fair trade label, 100% of the primary ingredient must be certified. Although a helpful tool for responsible shoppers, it is important to note that certification alone is not enough to solve all fair labor issues within a supply chain.

Investment in People and Communities

Many fair trade producer cooperatives and artisan collectives reinvest their revenues into strengthening their businesses and their communities. In addition, for each fair trade product sold the cooperative also receives a set amount of money, called the social premium, which is invested in community development projects democratically chosen by the cooperative. Examples of projects funded through fair trade include the building of health care clinics and schools, starting scholarship funds, building housing and providing leadership training and women's empowerment programs.

Environmental Sustainability

Fair trade farmers and artisans respect the natural habitat and are encouraged to engage in sustainable production methods. Farmers implement integrated crop management and avoid the use of toxic agrochemicals for pest management. Nearly 85% of Fair Trade Certified™ coffee is also organic.

Economic Empowerment of Small Scale Producers

Fair trade supports small scale producers, those at the bottom of the economic ladder or from marginalized communities, that otherwise do not have access to economic mobility. Fair trade encourages and supports the cooperative system where each producer owns a portion of the business, has equal say in decisions and enjoys equal returns from the market

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