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There is sometimes confusion surrounding Fair Trade, particularly about what the difference between Fair Trade, and Fairtrade is.

Fair Trade refers to the concept of trading that follows a set of agreed principles. These principles are based on a global movement that is about ensuring better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and farm workers – particularly those in the developing world who have traditionally been discriminated against in conventional trade systems. They are about supporting the development of successful farming communities that have more control over their futures and protecting the environment in which they live and work.

Fair trade certification is thus a product certification within this movement. Such accreditation means that, small-scale farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fair trade standards have produced the ingredients or textiles in your product. The most widely used fair trade certification, used in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, is Fairtrade International’s International Fairtrade Certification Mark.

 Fairtrade International (FLO) is an international fair trade organisation whose bodies develop and review Fairtrade Standards and assist producers in gaining and sustaining certification by ensuring that they are complying with the FLO Fairtrade Standards. These standards include the protection of worker’s rights and the environment, the payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price – that which is set to cover the cost of sustainable production for that product in that region, or the market price if it is higher – and the payment of an additional Fairtrade Premium to invest in local business or community projects.

Within the clothing and textile industry, the use of the term fair trade usually refers specifically to Fairtrade Cotton. Fairtrade certified wool, linen, hemp, jute, cashmere, or silk etc. does not technically exist, and thus no products containing these textiles will carry the Fairtrade Mark. This is not to say that there are no farmers or growers of other textiles that do not uphold standards and practices of cultivation and production as deemed satisfactory by the fair trade movement. It is because FLO is only concerned with primary agricultural products, and cotton is the only fibre included in its list of certified commodities.

The Fairtrade Mark only covers the cotton production phase (from seed to yarn). To carry the mark on their goods, fashion companies must complete an external social compliance assessment for the actual garment production process. The labeling of garments which are in fact composite products, made up of a blend of various materials or fibres, is slightly more complicated, but there are standards in place to maintain the integrity of the Fairtrade Mark.

The Fairtrade Foundation’s labeling requirements for cotton do, however, exclude ‘non-relevant’ components such as:

  • Non-integral edgings and trimmings
  • Buttons and buckles which are covered with textile materials
  • Pocket linings and constructed waistbands
  • Accessories, decorations, non-elastic ribbons, elastic threads/bands added at specific/limited points of the product
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