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Fairtrade Textile Standard Gains First Partners

Three German brands are setting the bar for better working conditions, wages and workers’ rights.

Fairtrade announced 3Freunde, Melawear and Shirts for Life as the first textile manufacturers to pledge to the new Fairtrade Textile Standard and its corresponding textile program.

“These first partners take on an important pioneering role and serve as role models,” Dieter Overath, chief executive of Fairtrade Germany, said. “Such courageous commitment is precisely what we need to finally drive change in the textile industry.”

The Fairtrade Textile Standard is an initiative that empowers factory workers to advocate for better safety, pay and quality of life. It is the first textile industry standard that requires living wages to be paid periodically. It also requires the living wage level to be reached within six years. The standard includes requirements for brands as well: they have to commit to fair and long-term sourcing practices in order to establish contracts that support wage growth.

3Freunde, Melawear and Shirts for Life all are taking steps to ensure proper conditions, treatment and wages for their supply chain workers.

3Freunde has been producing Fairtrade cotton T-shirts for many years. Founder Stefan Niethammer said the company will implement new standards for better supply chain operations.

“Now we want to take the next step and go from certifying our raw materials to also certifying our supply chains against Fairtrade Standards. We are a shareholder in a factory in India where we will start implementing the Textile Standard requirements,” Niethammer said in a statement.

Melawear, another Fairtrade cotton partner, will enforce the textile program and it already assessed one of its production sites in India.

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“The detected issues mostly relate to wages, participation and contract workers,” Melawear director Henning Siedentopp said. “Our first goals are to create the necessary framework for easier participation, the incremental rise of wages and the improvement of the precarious employment conditions for contract workers.”

Shirts for Life, like Melawear, is also a member of the Partnership for Sustainable Textiles. “The Partnership for Sustainable Textiles is a great idea, since it gathers various stakeholders around a table,” Shirts For Life founder Dr. Ulrich Hofmann said. “But the Fairtrade program is a hands-on tool for improvements on the ground, which is highly important to us. We aim to contribute to a change of consumers’ awareness.”

Although the Fairtrade Textile Standard seems promising for workers, the Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has expressed some concern over the new guidelines.

According to the CCC, garments that have the Fairtrade Textile Production Mark are always accompanied by a compliance level statement. This demonstrates that the company or brand has achieved a certain ranking for the Fairtrade Textile Standard. With that said, garments are marked as “fairtrade” without guaranteeing that workers have earned living wages.

The CCC says this is highly misleading for customers and such mislabeling provides brands with marketing benefits. After criticizing the Fairtrade Textile Standard in March, the CCC still has concerns about the Fairtrade Textile Standard.

It will be up to brands and industry members to personally evaluate their respective supply chains, to ensure workers remain a top priority regardless of the Fairtrade Textile Standard and its criticisms.