Big step toward fair textiles

FLO embarks on major study to improve livelihoods for textile workers

21 March 2011

Raw cotton travels a long, complex supply chain – ginning, spinning, knitting/weaving, dyeing, cut-make-and-trim – before arriving on retail shelves. At each step, businesses try to cut costs to deliver affordable towels and t-shirts to consumers. Throughout the textile supply chain, workers are squeezed to deliver more product on shorter deadlines for lower pay and fewer benefits.

Textile workers are often not paid according to contractual requirements, but lack the job protection to demand their rights. Many workers receive low wages that don’t cover their basic costs. Workers may not get paid for overtime. In worst cases they labour in unsafe or abusive workplaces.

Fairtrade International (FLO) has partnered with important players in textiles, labour rights and within Fairtrade to try to change this situation.  FLO is currently overseeing a major project with five parallel pilots to determine how Fairtrade can be implemented in the textile industry and make an impact for workers

“People across the textile industry are watching our project closely. This is a big, ambitious project,” said Rossitza Krueger, FLO’s Textiles Manager.

Under the current Fairtrade cotton standard, textile manufacturers working with Fairtrade cotton must demonstrate efforts to comply with core International Labour Organization labour standards. Manufacturers must meet one of eight indicators, such as SA 8000 certification or a letter of endorsement from an ICFTU-accredited union. But there are no Fairtrade standards specifically for textile workers.

“With this project, we’re hoping to go beyond core labour rights to focus on workers’ empowerment. We’re exploring things like wage improvement, the Fairtrade Premium, supporting unions and long-term contracts to find out what makes the difference for textiles workers,” said Krueger.

In the fall, FLO will study the results of all five projects and determine which tools and standards offer the best benefits to textile workers that can be practically implemented.

“Whatever we learn could be very valuable to the textile industry as a whole. And for workers in the Fairtrade supply chain, we already have the system in place to be able to monitor any standards we put in place,” Krueger added.

For more information, please see the project update link to stakeholder letter (PDF).

Krueger recently traveled with Louise Luttikholt, Director of Strategy and Policy at FLO to visit textile factories and mills in India. Read more about the trip at Fairtrade on the Road.

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