The revolution that has swept the food industry is expanding to retail: origins matter.
With fair-trade coffee and organic fruit now standard on grocery shelves, consumers concerned with working conditions, environmental issues and outsourcing are increasingly demanding similar accountability for their T-shirts. The issue has been brought to the forefront by the garment factory collapse inBangladesh, which killed more than 800 people.
And some retailers are doing what was once unthinkable, handing over information about exactly how, and where, their products were made.
Everlane, an online boutique, last week added paragraphs to its Web site describing the factories where its products are made.
Nordstrom says it is considering adding information about clothes produced in humane working conditions.
An online boutique breaks down the number of workers involved in making each item and the cost of every component, while a textiles company intends to trumpet the fair-trade origins of its robes when Bed Bath & Beyond starts selling them this month.
And a group of major retailers and apparel companies, including some — like Nike and Walmart — with a history of controversial manufacturing practices overseas, says it is developing an index that will include labor, social and environmental measures.
There would be two more trips last year totaling almost four weeks in September, October and November. In my reporting, I found even Burkinabe cotton produced under purportedly ethical conditions was supported by forced child labor. We also obtained a copy of an unpublished 2008 study co-sponsored by the national growers union, which runs the organic and fair-trade program in the country. The report showed there were potentially vulnerable foster children on cotton farms across the country that were certified as fair trade. We started visiting farms.Along the way, we found a girl who called herself Clarisse Kambire in the small village of Benvar. Briefly a promising student at the local school, she had the muscular hands of a field laborer by the time I met her. I also met other foster children like her who were forced to work on the plot next to hers. Fewer than 20 farmers participated in the organic and fair-trade program in the village. Those growers were open about the work children performed, precisely because they didn’t know they were doing anything wrong — a consequence of the lack of training the program was supposed to provide.
Blue Whale Coffee is an organization committed to offering delicious Thai Coffee using organic farming methods and Fair Trade practices for farmers, enabling them to care for their families. 100% of profits fund shelter and restoration of children and young women who are victims of human trafficking (human slavery).
Victoria’s Secret, whose supermodel “Angels” helped it set record sales and profit in the third quarter of 2011, agreed in 2007 to a deal to buy fair-trade and organic cotton from Burkina Faso. The aim was to purchase sustainable raw materials and benefit female African farmers.In time for Valentine’s Day 2009, the retailer marketed a special lingerie line made from “pesticide-free, 100 percent rain-fed cotton” and sold with the claim that each purchase improved lives in the country.“Good for women,” read a booklet accompanying a white thong covered with blue and lavender daisies. “Good for the children who depend on them.”Growers sell the fiber to companies with fair-trade certification, though the finished garments no longer carry the “good for children” marketing message, nor do they have a fair-trade stamp. Victoria’s Secret has more than 1,000 stores in North America, and sells through its famously risque catalogs and around the world via the Internet.Fairtrade International, the world’s largest group of its kind, certified that Burkina Faso’s organic crop met its standards, says Tuulia Syvaenen, chief operating officer of the Bonn-based organization.Myers, of Limited Brands, says the company relied on that certification to meet its goal of “improving the lives of some of the world’s poorest women and children through the responsible sourcing of cotton — something we have been doing through our efforts with Burkinabe women cotton farmers.”Fairtrade International started a review in Burkina Faso after Bloomberg News raised questions, says Syvaenen, adding it would begin a training program for farmers. She also says the UNPCB never gave Fairtrade a copy of the 2008 study it co- sponsored on child labor, which identified concerns about the vulnerability of so-called enfants confies, a French term used in West Africa for a type of foster child — kids such as Clarisse.
(Cam Simpson for Bloomberg Businessweek)
I apologize for taking such a big chunk, but this whole article is worth reading. It’s a huge tragedy that the farm where this child labor is going on is, in fact, an organic AND fair trade certified cotton plantation. The local fair trade president said he believed it was fine to have children working as long as they aren’t YOUR biological children (as if someone else’s kids don’t deserve a childhood education?) and if they are older than 6 years old. It seems as though VS was probably trying to do the right thing, and trusted the Fair Trade certification.
Fairtrade: The Facts* Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions and fair terms for farmers and workers in the developing world. Companies must pay a set price for their products, rather than buying it for less than the cost of production.* Fairtrade tea and coffee are…
What You Might Not Know About Dunkin’ Donuts’ Fair Trade Certified™ Espresso
Did you know that every time you buy an Espresso, Cappuccino, or Latte beverage from Dunkin’ Donuts, you’re supporting Fair Trade? Dunkin’ Donuts’ espresso beans are 100% Fair Trade Certified™ and selected from only the finest, high-quality Arabica beans.