#GetTheSeal: Calling Fashion Brands to Action in Challenging Times

"In the absence of legislation, we all need to understand that we have to operate responsibly. We looked at fair trade as an instigator and catalyst for change and a tool to create social impact." - Sanjeev Bahl, Founder and CEO of Saitex

Last week, I went on my first family vacation since the pandemic began. I was reminded what it was like to share daily meals, to give out hugs liberally, to celebrate without fear, and to pack and get excited about what I was going to wear beyond my daily rotation of sweats and 501s. But my journey in this "return to normal-ish" however, is a privilege.

The spread of the contagious Delta variant has re-ignited public fear. Citizens of India, Africa, and more are still experiencing catastrophic fallout because they lack access to proper healthcare and vaccines. The harsh reality is that those who were already vulnerable to oppression, exploitation, and poverty within the global production ecosystem, have been hit even harder.

Return to normal-ish is only true for the privileged few. And if we stand in this minority, we would be remiss not to use this moment as an imperative for systemic change. And to hold our businesses, our governments, and ourselves accountable for it.

Let's think about the makers of my new pants to illustrate this point. An estimated 60 million garment workers had their livelihoods put at risk during the peak of Covid-19 and while we won't know the full-scale impact for a while, one thing is true, millions of garment employees were out of work as demand decreased and factories shuddered. So many were left with no means to provide for their families, let alone think about protective health and safety measures.

This year we put the impact of Fair Trade Certified factories, and the plight of garment factory workers during the pandemic, at the heart of our annual We Wear Fair Trade campaign. We challenged apparel brands to make new or expanded commitments to fair trade sourcing through our first #GetTheSeal Challenge, and called on consumers to ask their favorite brands to join the Challenge.

Workers prepare materials for clothing at Connoisseur Fashions, a Fair Trade Certified apparel factory, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India.

Why should brands join the fair trade fashion movement?

1.    For garment factory workers:

Because 85% of fashion brands say that wages should be enough to meet workers’ basic needs, yet 34% have gone hungry at least once a week since the pandemic. Fair trade is a way brands can invest in garment factory workers' lives, ensure sustainability for the industry, and improve worker retention and engagement. It's also an established supply chain program with more than 90 factories and helps increase a brand's accountability and transparency through direct supplier relationships.

2.    For resiliency:

Fair trade helps enable resiliency in times of crisis. When 75% of Fair Trade Certified factories shut down due to the pandemic, Fair Trade USA facilitated $2.5 million in emergency relief funds for factory workers.  Workers elected to use these funds to provide direct cash disbursements to offset the loss of income, implement extra PPE measures, fund clinics, provide transportation, and more.

3.    For transparency and accountability:

Through fair trade, brands have a direct source for their apparel through our certified factories. To maintain certification, factories are audited against rigorous standards, which include requirements for legal wages, safe workplaces, protection of fundamental human rights, paid sick and maternity leave, fair management of funds, and environmental protections. These clear standards and auditing processes, combined with impact data from the source, help businesses provide the transparency consumers expect. 

4.    For consumer demand:

Fair trade is the only three-pronged certification on the market that enables responsible sourcing via rigorous standards, the giving of direct funds for sustainable development programs, and consumer engagement through the use of the Fair Trade Certified seal that is recognized by 63% of shoppers

Jose Manuel Chi Canul, 27, from Motul, cuts pieces of clothing into their pattern at Vertical Knits a Fair Trade Certified garment factory in Mexico.

Leading Brands and Factories Speak Out for Fair Trade

During the campaign, existing brand and factory partners came together with leading journalist Esha Chhabra to discuss how the fair trade program is helping them, and the industry, build a more responsible future. The audience of apparel brands and manufacturers heard from Arc'teryx, KNOWN SUPPLY, Pact, Saitex, and Interloop about how and why they implemented the fair trade program, how they communicated about it both internally and externally, and, most importantly, the impact it's made inside their factories and in lives of garment factory workers. 

In the words of Adrianne Gilbride, Supply Chain Sustainability Lead at Arc'teryx , "We see fair trade as a tool to flip the industry upside down and address the deep inequity that exists. It was a no-brainer."

K. Murugan (center aisle), 44, has worked at Connoisseur Fashions, a Fair Trade Certified apparel factory, for 8 years as a Production Manager. He also works as a fair trade officer and an ambassador of the Fair Trade Committee. In those roles Murugan works as a liaison between committee members and factory management, passing along requests and important communication between the two groups.

Taking Action on Responsible Sourcing

Over 250 fair trade advocates participated in the campaign challenge, calling on their favorite brands to #GetTheSeal. As a result, more than 35 brands participated in the campaign, with four making new commitments to fair trade sourcing as part of the #GetTheSeal Challenge. 

While four may seem small, converting just one factory for a brand, can create positive impact in the lives of hundreds of garment factory employees. I'm encouraged by these incremental, but authentic steps from brands in response to their shoppers and the people who produce their clothing. 

The #GetTheSeal Challenge continues to run through 2021. Brands can still take action by making a new or expanded commitment or contacting our team to learn more. There’s no better time to make the commitment than during Fair Trade Month.

Apparel shoppers can still show up by signing this petition and telling us a brand they'd like to see #GetTheSeal. I signed to challenge the makers of my new pants. Who will you choose?

Shop existing Fair Trade Certified apparel in our guide.

Kasi Martin is the Head of PR at Fair Trade USA and advocate for ethical and sustainable fashion. 

Join the #GetTheSeal challenge

Join the brands that have made commitments to fair trade sourcing as part of the new #GetTheSeal challenge. Be part of the change and make a commitment today.