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Clean Clothes Campaign Says New Fairtrade Standard Will Not Protect Textile Workers

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Fairtrade International

Fairtrade International on Tuesday unveiled a new standard that it said would empower textile workers in developing countries, but Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) has criticized the group’s latest efforts.

Based on Fairtrade’s existing Hired Labor Standard, the new guideline focuses on working conditions, living wages and workers’ rights. The group said it’s the first such standard to require living wages to be paid within a set time period—six years—and that brand owners will be “contractually responsible” for fair and long-term purchasing practices that are essential to implementing pay increases.

However, CCC argued the new standard does not hold brands responsible for respecting decent labor conditions and that it includes complex and costly requirements for factories, but doesn’t require companies to commit to real change in terms of their purchasing and operating practices.

According to Fairtrade, the standard is the first step toward implementing its Fairtrade Textile Program, which aims to change textile supply chains and related business practices. Following an initial assessment, production facilities will be supported to meet the standard’s requirements in various areas including health and safety, worker empowerment, living wages and improvements in efficiency and productivity.

“It is important for factory owners and workers to understand the standard’s content as well as the purpose of Fairtrade. That’s the main challenge when implementing the standard and running local training sessions,” Siva Parti, environmental and health and safety expert at Sustainable Textile Solutions, said in a statement.

Textile companies will be inspected by Flocert, Fairtrade’s independent global certification and verification body, which will then work with the factory workers and management to come up with solutions to improve their situation. Once their entire supply chain has been certified in line with the standard, products will carry the Fairtrade Textile Production Mark and packaging will also indicate the brand’s progress toward achieving living wages.

But CCC said relying on social auditing won’t trigger a sector-wide change and that marking garments as “fairtrade” without paying a living wage is unacceptable and misleading to consumers.

“The standard foresees that the factory management has to sign an implementation plan with workers representatives, but the factory has no guarantee that the buyers stay as prices go up,” a statement from the Amsterdam-based advocacy group said. “If the burden of implementing a living wage lies entirely on the supplier, CCC fears that no factory management will commit to such a plan.”

Fairtrade is currently negotiating with interested companies and said it hopes to announce commitments soon. The standard is applicable from June 2016 onward.

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