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Scaling Fair Trade Is a ‘Top Priority’ for Artistic Milliners

For the denim industry, certifications help in the fight against false sustainable and ethical claims and provide consumers with a seal of approval to guide buying decisions.

In a Kingpins24 discussion, Artistic Milliner managing director Murtaza Ahmed and Amy Blyth, Fair Trade USA director of program development and partnerships, apparel and home goods factory program, explained how the organization’s unique offerings do more than just provide a seal of approval.

Founded in 1998, Fair Trade USA is one of those certifications setting standards for products ranging from food to apparel that promote sustainable livelihoods for farmers and workers and protect the environment. The nonprofit has awarded 10 denim factories with its Fair Trade Certified label, beginning with Pakistan-based Artistic Milliners.

Like other certifications, the Fair Trade seal indicates a business has passed rigorous standards, and specifically focuses on health and safety, positive working conditions and fair wages that are in line with several sustainable development goals. But what sets Fair Trade apart from others, Ahmed said, is the direct line of support from consumer to worker—a practice that he called “unprecedented.”

Producers of Fair Trade-certified products receive money for every certified product sold. Those funds are stored in a community development fund, which a committee of workers then disperses according to their needs.

“The brilliant part about the Fair Trade program is that it truly connects the consumer and, through their purchase, helps them allocate a certain portion of their disposable income to a worker thousands of miles away,” Ahmed said.

One of the biggest challenges of implementing the program, he noted, is setting up escrow accounts, which are savings accounts managed by a third party. As requirements vary by country, opening these accounts in different regions can require some extra work. But according to Blyth, the program helps ensure workers are fairly compensated.

“It’s a way to get more money into the hands of the workers and make sure that they are having a positive experience at the workplace,” she said.

Artistic Milliners, he added, is committed to scaling the program, calling it the company’s top priority. “During these times with this pandemic, it’s definitely something that is going to be very important,” he said.