Fair Trade USA and Textile Exchange may transform the global textile industry’s approach towards supply chain management and responsible sourcing. Yesterday the two organizations announced a strategic partnership that will offer both emerging and leading brands the opportunity to support cotton farming communities and source more sustainable and ethical fibers.
Textile Exchange has already made its mark by collaborating with companies on sourcing everything from recycled polyester to sustainable wool. Meanwhile, Fair Trade USA has raised awareness on how a small premium paid for cocoa and coffee can improve lives abroad by expanding health care coverage and building better roads.
The new partnership will address issues related to the growing demand for cotton. As is the case with other commodities, cotton prices have spiked in price, in cotton’s case to a 15-year high. Clothing manufacturers in turn are struggling to secure a dependable source of raw materials at a cost-competitive price. The risk is that the farmers who work the long days to plant, tend, and pick crops like cotton to not always benefit financially, even during boom times. Now consumers have more awareness of what goes into the manufacturing of a cotton t-shirt or summer dress, and are holding companies accountable. The Textile Change-Fair Trade USA partnership, if successful in the long run, can help assure shoppers that their purchased clothing was made with minimal impact on the environment and more importantly, on people.
For Fair Trade USA, this new alliance opens doors. Companies that work with Textile Exchange include Nike, Disney, H&M (and C&A, its German competitor), Walmart, Gap Inc., Target, Patagonia, Nordstrom, and REI. The possibility of retailers, whether they appeal to the price-conscious consumer or high-end shopper, could be a boon to ethically- and responsibly-sourced clothing. But here’s the caveat, as the partnership announced its focus would be:
This new partnership will focus on market-linkage, joint conferences and tradeshows, and educational materials development to recognize Fair Trade as the gold standard for sustainability in the textile industry.
Let’s hope that the benefits largely goes to the folks abroad who work many hours to provide the materials and finished goods in the first place. One criticism I have heard frequently about these standards and certification organizations is that even more fees should be going to the people for whom these organizations are advocating–not to fund Westerners traipsing about from conference to conference preaching to the choir.