Remember Kathie Lee Gifford? That’s all right, I try not to either. But some would argue that she is the godmother of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) movement. In the mid-1990s, media reports surfaced that her clothing line for Wal-Mart was made by overworked and underpaid children toiling in Central American sweatshops. She vociferously denied the charges on her eponymous talk show that she co-hosted with Regis Philbin—which only cranked out more media stories, interviews with the workers, a Congressional inquiry, and finally, a tearful mea culpa in front of the cameras. Of course she moved on—unfortunately I wonder if many of those workers were able to rebuild their lives.
Fast forward 15 or so years later, and now we can finally sort out if those clothes we buy are ethically manufactured. Chain stores from H&M to Gap to C&A try to claim that some of their lines are sustainably and responsibly made, but a quick fact check on the internet brings up more questions than answers. Other apparel firms like Timberland have rigorous CSR programs that focus on multiple programs to factory safety to employee education to microloans. But there is so little standardization, and many of us want more than knowing that our purchase is placed in a plastic bag that is made from recycled content. Transfair USA’s Fair Trade Certified label is one attempt to change the questions involved with purchasing clothing and linens.
Fair Trade Certification for Apparel and Linens strives to create an environmental, social, and economic standard that benefits the farmers who grow the cotton and the workers who shape and cut the clothing. Throughout the supply chain, Transfair tries to ensure the following:
Farmers: Cotton farmers in countries including Mali and India can earn up to 30 percent more on Fair Trade sales while collecting a premium for needs such as schools and medical centers. Farmers also must follow stringent environmental standards, and cannot raise genetically modified plants or use toxic chemicals during production
Workers: Garment workers earn a premium of up to 10 percent of the cost of the garment for community investment or a cash bonus. Factories must meet strict workplace requirements based on the International Labor Organization’s conventions.
Companies: Transfair’s label certification process motivates firms to invest in the farmers and workers from which they source, and to communicate their commitment to environmental and social responsibility to consumers at the point of purchase.
Consumers: For each Fair Trade purchase, farmers and factory workers earn a percentage that allows them to fund social development projects while solving poverty in their communities.
No word yet on whether Ms. Gifford has any comment.