Friday, March 07, 2008

Building Fair Trade Trust

You may remember from a previous post that I was getting all gushy about Peace Coffee.  Well, the fine folks there have a new video that helps you learn get a view on how they do business the Fair Trade way.  I confess I haven't watched it myself.  I have really slow wireless service when it comes to streaming video.  But I trust Mel, Liz and the other folks at Peace to put together a good product.  I know their coffee is great and I suspect their latest creative efforts will show you why and how.

Trust is an interesting thing I've been musing a lot about recently.  I won't get started on how torn I am between Obama and Clinton. But I can say as someone who is pretty clear on the need for transparency, I was dismayed that in a recent debate Senator Clinton said she was too busy to release financial records.  In the Fair Trade world, verification of claims, as they say, is so important to building trust and to solidifying practices that are ethical and socially responsible.  To have mechanisms for sharing information and to not utilize them is missing opportunities to inspire, to educate and to set standards.

Sometimes, however, there is no reliable or consistent system of tracing supply chains, and clothing is a case in point.  Many people are getting involved in Fair Trade food and household products and so they want clothing that supports Fair Trade principles.  Folks figure they can avoid sweatshop abuses by looking within the Fair Trade marketplace. But it turns out that a variety of factors--most notably a very complicated supply chain from cotton boll to a simple button-down blouse--make it very difficult to certify that clothing is made under conditions that are "sweatfree". That means that despite certification systems like those of TransFair USA or the USDA organics program, there is no "certified" Fair Trade clothing.   Check out the "new products research" section of the TransFair website for more on why.

Even distinguishing among the practices of companies is often beyond the reach of activists. As the worldwide Clean Clothes Campaign notes,  "Unfortunately we don't have a list of  'clean' retailers or manufactures--things are not really at the point yet where we would feel comfortable endorsing or recommending any companies (since they all have a long way to go)." In the absence of an independent verification system, my buddy Joe Falcone,  who started up Fair Trade Apparel, is trying is trying to create his own methods for verifying his business model and the empowerment mechanisms he uses in Bangladesh.  He was recently featured in the NY Times  in a column which sketched out some of the contentious issues in the apparel world.

For me, I'm lucky to know Joe, his wife, and daughter personally.  I have talked with him about his philosophy and business model, viewed footage from the factory he works with, and debated the pros and cons of being an innovator in the apparel industry.  I trust him, and I'm lucky to know him (and every time I see him I get samples of the great tees his folks produce for college campuses).   I recognize that not everybody is as fortunate to hang out with wonderful people and their companies.  

I hope this blog introduction to Joe (and my continual shout outs to Peace Coffee and others) helps readers sort out some of the innovators in the Fair Trade movement.  I encourage you to learn as much as you can about these companies and others (maybe even join us at the FTF conference next month).   Fostering relationships and community among Fair Traders is  a pretty good trust builder while we sort out newer and stronger systems of checks and balances.

1 comment:

  1. Trust is very important. We talked about it at the FTF Conference.

    It is hard to achieve too. There is always the fear of others stealing your producers... which in itself is a weird idea. You want to empower your producers so they don't depend on you, and fair, transparent competition is welcome.

    What do you think?