Ethical Clothing BrandsThe rise of the fast fashion industry in recent years has perpetuated unethical labor conditions for those working in the garment industry. Many of these workers are women and children who are forced to live in a vicious cycle of poverty because they do not receive living wages. However, in response to these human rights abuses, new clothing companies have emerged with a commitment to the ethical treatment of their workers. Here is a list of the top four ethical clothing brands.

Top 4 Ethical Clothing Brands

  1. Organic Basics- Organic Basics has become widely known among ethical clothing brands for its dedication to using eco-friendly materials and 100 percent recycled packaging. The company, as the name suggests, produces basics such as underwear, bras, socks, activewear and t-shirts for men and women, with a focus on using organic cotton. Organic Basics sources its final stage of production from countries that are at high-risk for labor abuses, such as Turkey and Portugal, but the company ensures that living wages are paid all across the supply chain. Organic Basics’ website also features a tool called the Impact Index, which allows customers to compare the company’s production practices with traditional production practices in terms of waste, chemicals, energy, emissions and water.
  2. Kowtow- Kowtow is a New Zealand-based brand producing womenswear and ceramics. Like other ethical clothing brands, Kowtow strives to ensure that living wages are paid across the supply chain. All of the company’s factories are also certified by SA8000, a standard of social accountability that indicates an organization’s commitment to the fair treatment of workers. SA8000’s measures evaluate organizations and brands through nine metrics: child labor, forced or compulsory labor, health and safety, freedom of association and right to collective bargaining, discrimination, disciplinary practices, working hours, remuneration and management system. Kowtow also uses only Fair Trade Labelling Organisations International (FLO) certified cotton in its products, allowing farmers to secure better prices for their cotton and supporting communities.
  3. People Tree- People Tree, launched in 1991 by award-winning social entrepreneur Safia Minney, is an ethical clothing brand creating high-quality essentials for women. The company sources from countries that are at high or extreme risk of labor abuse, such as Bangladesh, India, Kenya, Turkey, Portugal and Nepal. People Tree protects its workers by adhering to the Fairtrade International – Small Producers Organizations Code of Conduct. People Tree ensures that suppliers pay living wages and either visits or uses a third party to audit all suppliers in the supply chain to ensure that labor standards are met. As one of the oldest ethical fashion companies, People Tree was the first to be awarded the World Fair Trade Organization product label. The company also offers discounts for students on its website.
  4. HARA- HARA creates ethical bras, underwear, loungewear and scrunchies for women. The company’s vision is to have all of its supply chain in one location or country to ensure workplace safety and fair labor standards. Currently, all of HARA’s products are dyed, cut, sewn, packaged and shipped in Melbourne, Australia. According to the company’s website, “All employees work under the Australian Textile, Clothing, Footwear and Associated Industries Award 2010 which entitles them to the right to a living wage and ensure that wages for a normal workweek, not including overtime, shall always meet at least legal or industry minimum standards. Wages shall be sufficient to meet the basic needs and to provide some discretionary income.” Along with these requirements, the company also provides adequate breaks, time off, workplace lighting, climate and hygiene standards, a safe work environment and protection against discrimination.

These ethical clothing brands allow consumers to easily support clothing brands that are committed to the fair treatment of garment workers. These companies and consumers are breaking the cycle of poverty caused by the unethical practices of fast fashion companies.

– Shania Kennedy
Photo: Pixabay

People Tree FoundationWithin the last two decades, the fashion industry has become increasingly cheap and accessible. The term fast fashion refers to rapidly and cheaply produced apparel that cycles out according to ever-changing trends. This term has been integrated into most fashion brands’ profit-oriented business models and has negatively impacted impoverished communities in developing countries.

Fast fashion brands often exploit poor countries for cheap labor, and many supply chains that are connected with big-name brands do not provide safe working conditions or sufficient living wages. For example, nine out of 10 fashion workers in Bangladesh cannot afford enough food for their families.

The People Tree Foundation

However, People Tree is defying the harmful practices of the fashion industry. People Tree is a fair trade brand, based in London and Tokyo, which takes a more people-oriented approach to fashion. People Tree’s work focuses on promoting sustainability, empowering women and improving conditions in poor communities. This fair trade brand is dedicated to producing ethically-made and sustainable clothing by using environmentally friendly materials and implementing good working conditions. People Tree refers to their practices as “slow fashion.”

People Tree is not just a fashion brand; it also works alongside an independent charity called the People Tree Foundation. The foundation works to accomplish three main goals: reduce poverty, protect the environment and spread awareness about fair trade. To reach these goals, People Tree raises funds to provide education and training to people in developing countries, protect the environment by using organic materials and campaigning to raise awareness about sustainable and ethical fashion.

The People Tree Foundation works in countries that are vulnerable to exploitation such as Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Kenya. These countries are susceptible to the injustices of fast fashion because the garment industry dominates their economy and comprises the majority of jobs. The foundation is involved with a variety of fair trade projects in these developing countries that aim to empower artisan groups in small communities.

In 2015, the People Tree Foundation generated more than £10,000 from sales and donations. The funds raised for that year were donated to projects such as Thanapara Swallows. Thanapara Swallows is a nongovernmental organization in Bangladesh committed to educating and training the poor population and creating health awareness and self-employment opportunities. Thanapara Swallows built a school in Bangladesh that educates nearly 300 students who are getting five years of primary education, and People Tree supports 50 percent of their school’s running costs.

Other Sustainable Solutions

In the fight against fast fashion, People Tree is not alone. Many fair trade organizations and brands have been on a rise in popularity. For example, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), which People Tree is a member of, is among the organizations leading the movement toward ethical and sustainable fashion.

The WTFO has over 330 Fair Trade Enterprise members and over 70 supporting organizations that are committed to abiding by fair trade practices, including respecting the environment, ensuring gender equality, providing fair wages and good working conditions and ensuring opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers. The WTFO has impacted over 965,700 livelihoods by creating a fair trade standard for brands to follow. Brands verified are by the WTFO through peer reviews and independent audits.

Ultimately, the future of fashion remains in the hands of the consumer. Making conscious purchases makes the world one step closer to making the production of apparel more sustainable and humane. Other ways to practice sustainability include reducing consumption by buying only what you need, buying only secondhand clothing and researching the companies behind products online or on the website and mobile app Good On You.

– Louise Macaraniag
Photo: Media Server

Why people should shop fair tradeOver three years ago, Cathy Marks was hired for the managing position at the fair trade store, Ten Thousand Villages, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. When the previous company she worked for, a franchising company, was sold, Marks was temporarily unemployed. During this time, she decided to look for a career in “something more meaningful.”

Having shopped at Ten Thousand Villages in the past, Marks said she was “intrigued as a customer” from the positive impact Ten Thousand Villages makes in preventing global poverty. It didn’t take long before she applied for the position. Since then, Marks is enjoying her job in the fair trade industry. She says her favorite part is telling stories about the artists to customers because the stories allow customers to make connections between specific artisans and their culture with their products.

Marks believes fair trade is necessary because it helps people in developing countries have higher standards for their communities, their homes and their educational systems. Here are 10 reasons why people should shop fair trade.

10 Reasons Why People Should Shop Fair Trade

  1. Fights Global Poverty and Hunger – Fair trade guarantees workers are paid at least a “minimum floor price,” or the amount it costs for them to produce their product. This standard ensures workers are not living in poverty, resulting in them being able to live comfortably with an income that fulfills their basic household needs such as food and clothing. On top of that, it also ensures workers have a surplus sum of money which they are able to save for future needs.
  2. Empowers Workers – Because fair trade ensures workers are living above the poverty line, workers are able to spend less time worrying about where their next meal is coming from, and more time planning for their future. Instead of depending on others for help, they have control over their own lives. They have the ability, time and resources to make choices for the good of themselves and their community.
  3. Positively Impacts Communities – On top of their wages, workers in the fair trade industry are also given premiums. Premiums are funds that workers can put toward whatever they feel will best benefit their community. For instance, workers can use premiums to better their community’s educational system, healthcare system, environment, recreational facilities or water access. This ensures better conditions and futures for workers’ communities.
  4. Ensures Safe Working Conditions – Fair trade protects workers’ basic human rights. It ensures they work reasonable hours and work in an environment that is free of harmful chemicals and substances. Marginalized and vulnerable populations are equally protected under fair trade standards. Workers are paid a wage that allows them better health and better nutrition.
  5. Prohibits Child Labor – Fair trade standards ensure no forms of child labor and child slavery are used on farms. Children under the age of 18 are then able to attend school and lead healthier lives. The fair wage gives workers the resources they need to ensure their children receive proper nutrition.
  6. Protects Women’s and Minorities’ Rights – Fair trade ensures that women and minority workers are not discriminated against. No matter the workers’ age, race, religion, gender or ethnicity, all are treated equally. All are guaranteed fair wages and ethical working conditions.
  7. Promotes Environment Sustainability – Fair trade products are created using limited amounts of pesticides and fertilizers. They are not genetically engineered and utilize the most efficient amount of waste, water and energy as possible. In addition, many fair trade products are made from recycled materials. This helps preserve our planet’s natural resources.
  8. Keeps Indigenous Cultures Alive – When people shop fair trade, they get to experience multiple cultures from across the globe without having to go overseas. Each product, whether it be clothing, coffee beans, baskets or jewelry, comes from an artisan who spent their time and talent crafting the product. Through fair trade, artisans are able to keep their culture alive, share it with others and pass it down to the younger generations.
  9. Supports Ethicality – When shopping fair trade, people make a statement about how they think employees in developing countries should be treated– with fairness and equality. They are saying they believe all farmers and artisans should be paid at least minimum wage for the products they produce and that all farmers and artisans deserve to live a comfortable, healthy life. Buying fair trade raises awareness of the issue of unethical labor tactics.
  10. Meaningful Impact – Every time someone consumes a fair trade product, they are fulfilled, since they know their purchase is helping someone across the globe live a life free from poverty.

Like Marks encourages her customers, these 10 reasons show why people should shop fair trade. By shopping fair trade, workers’ rights are protected. They are treated equally and paid fairly. They are able to attend school and live in a comfortable, healthy environment. Their cultures are kept alive. When someone shops fair trade, they are helping keep the industry alive. Through a simple Google search, people can find a fair trade store near them to shop at and join the fight.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Fair Trade Product by Emily Turner

Ethical consumersNearly every consumer has heard of the shoe company TOMS and its “buy one, give one” business model. However, there are a number of other companies which also work to support ethical consumerism.

5 Companies for Ethical Consumers to Support Outside of TOMS

  1. 4Ocean: 4Ocean founders Alex Schulze and Andrew Cooper started their company after taking a trip to Bali, Indonesia and seeing the planet’s pollution problem first hand. Today they are present in 27 nations, employing over 150 locals. The company creates bracelets from the plastic and glass waste they clean up, pledging to clean one pound of trash for every bracelet sold. By employing locals to do so, they are empowering the people most affected by pollution and giving back to their economies.
  2. WakaWaka: WakaWaka, a Dutch solar manufacturer, has pledged to send over 2,000 LED lights to regions in West Africa currently struggling with Ebola outbreaks. Over 90 percent of Liberia and Sierra Leone are living in the dark, with no access to the power grid. WakaWaka hopes by bringing electricity to these regions they can help make a difference in the fight against Ebola. The WakaWaka Foundation donates its devices to areas in need around the world or “at a subsidized price or in exchange for community work.”
  3. HopeMade: HopeMade describes themselves as a “sustainable, and fair trade brand,” selling hand-made bags. They employ members of indigenous Colombian tribes, paying fair wages for the craftsmanship. The commitment to living wages and ethical production allows ethical consumers to know their money is going into the pocket of someone that needs it. According to HopeMade, “you directly support the sustainable fashion as well as empowering marginalized communities and this small tribe of powerful women.”
  4. Frank Water: Frank Water is a charity dedicated to providing safe drinking water for people living in Nepal and India. The company sells refillable water bottles and provides open access to tap water for the cost of just $5. All proceeds go towards giving those in need access to clean water. Without charities such as Frank Water girls must spend 6 hours a day fetching water. Frank Water has given over 100,000 people access to water, giving back hours of their day which can now be spent getting an education or working.
  5. Fair Indigo: Fair Indigo’s slogan “fashion with a conscience” sums up the clothing brand – sustainable and fairly made. The company is based in Peru, where it employs locals and pays fair wages. Fair Indigo holds a strong stance against sweatshops in the fashion industry. The company even has its own non-profit, The Fair Indigo Foundation, which is working to improve education in Peru. They are proud to state that every penny donated goes directly to the cause, with Fair Indigo baring the administrative cost.

Ethical brands such as these are working to make the world a better and more equal place for all people. While many companies attempt to profit off poverty-porn, there are still many options for ethical consumers that wish to spend their dollars at a company that cares.

– Maura Byrne
Photo: Flickr

Poverty Among Workers in the Cashew IndustryWithin the past few decades, diet culture has no doubt become a fad in the United States. From weight loss pills and body slimmers to obsessive calorie counting, diet fads are everywhere. For many, dieting means consuming foods that are high in protein and low in cholesterol and saturated fats. A popular type of food that fits this category is cashews. Convenient when it comes to on-the-go snacks, these moon-shaped nuts are full of protein and healthy monounsaturated fats that make them an ideal snack for dieters.

The top importer of cashews for the past decade, the U.S. imported over 147,000 tons of cashews in 2016, a 32 percent increase from the past four years. Of these imports, 92 percent came from Brazil, India and Vietnam. While the high demand for cashews makes them easily accessible to first-world consumers, these tasty treats come with a price: the poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Problem: Hazardous & Unethical Working Conditions

Tamil Nadu, a state in India, is home to a vast amount of cashew farms. Around 500,000 Indian citizens work on these farms, the majority of whom are women, some as young as 13. Because these employees are hired without contracts, their employers have no obligation to provide steady incomes, pensions or holiday pay. On top of that, cashew harvesting is physically dangerous.

When harvesting cashews, one must break through two layers of shells to get to the nut. In between those two layers of shells are two chemicals, known as cardol and anacardic acid. Upon coming into contact with the skin, these chemicals leave painful burns. While a simple pair of gloves could protect the hands and flesh of cashew harvesters, employers refuse to permit or provide gloves because they slow down the harvesting process.

The average cashew harvester in India earns around 160 rupees per 10-hour day. This equates to $1.90 per 10-hour day. This amount is not just below the poverty line but below the extreme poverty line. In 2015, around 70,000 cashew harvesters in India went on strike, demanding an increase of 70 cents per day. However, with or without this raise, this wage remains below the poverty line.

Multiple supermarkets that import cashews from Tamil Nadu have voluntarily signed up to be members of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI). However, they have not taken action to prevent the unethical conditions of the cashew plantations contributing to the overall poverty among workers in the cashew industry.

The Solution: Combating Unethicality

In 2013, upon acknowledging the poverty among workers in the cashew industry, a company in India called Acceso Cashew Enterprise Private Limited (ACE) was formed. Partnering with U.S. nonprofit Technoserve, ACE works to address inefficiencies in farming practices and conditions of the cashew industry. ACE created an agriculture program to increase the number of cashew crops grown in India utilizing the least amount of resources. This program also improves farmers’ incomes by teaching them sustainability techniques and strengthening their market linkages. In 2014, over 1,000 farmers participated in the program.

Aatmaram Yashvant Agre, a farmer who participated in ACE’s agricultural program, successfully implemented the sustainability techniques to improve his farming. As a result, Agre’s overall cashew production grew by 30 percent. ACE, which works to end global poverty through business solutions, encourages advocacy on the issue of poverty and always accepts donations. By ensuring cashew harvesters are utilizing more efficient farming practices, their profits increase. Thus, poverty among workers in the cashew industry decreases. More efficient farming practices also ensure cashew harvesters avoid practices that cause them physical harm. And ultimately, this enables cashew harvesters to live humanely and lead healthier lives.

– Emily Turner
Photo: Flickr