This is part of a series on "The Future of Fair Trade," written in collaboration with Fair Trade USA. A 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, Fair Trade USA is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. To follow along with the rest of the series, click here.
By Jenna Larson
When the Rana Plaza building collapsed leaving more than 1,100 factory workers in its rubble, the world was, for a brief moment, outraged. Irate consumers took to social media, voicing their concerns and theoretically boycotting any brand associated with the factories. Newspapers were aflame with accusations and testimonials, graphic photos emerged, and a conversation began.
It’s possible that Rana Plaza could quietly slip into the collective memory of labor abuse and human rights tragedies that we know exist but try desperately to ignore. At the same time, what we absolutely can’t do is let this happen again. Here are a few reasons why we believe (and hope) that the April 24 incident was a critical tipping point for all that came before, and why we can’t (and don’t have to) forget:
In a recent study, Harvard researcher Michael J. Hiscox published data showing that consumers paid 45 percent more for shirts labeled "ethically certified" on eBay. In a separate study, he found a 14 percent sales lift on clothing labeled "socially-conscious" in Banana Republic outlet stores.
In a recent radio interview with KPCC, LA’s NPR affiliate, callers made it clear that if Fair Trade and ethically-produced options were available, they would buy them. Generally speaking, people will pay a little bit more to know that their shirt was not produced under Rana Plaza-like conditions.
Fairly traded options line the shelves of supermarkets, offering a wide selection of coffee, tea, chocolate, produce, sugar and other products to shoppers looking to make a difference. So why shouldn’t we also have these options where we shop for clothes? Style and ethics don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
While Fair Trade is, of course, not the only solution, it is one of the first to offer a consumer label-- a mechanism to recognize brands on their journey towards ethical production, and a signal to consumers looking for high-quality styles that also support better wages and safe working conditions.
This proven success has led other brands to begin looking into Fair Trade as a feasible way to strengthen supply chains, improve transparency and communicate impact. But the idea of an ethical closet is still a far-off goal, unless shoppers begin to ask more questions about where their clothing was made.
We don’t have to forget about Bangladesh, because we can use it to fuel positive change for the future. And there are actually tangible ways to do that now, which makes all the difference in the world. The opportunity to take action, to vote with your dollar for better clothes, is very near.
Jenna Larson is the Communications Manager at Fair Trade USA
Fair Trade USA is a nonprofit organization that is the leading third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States. Fair Trade USA audits and certifies transactions between U.S. companies and their international suppliers to guarantee that the farmers and workers producing Fair Trade Certified goods were paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, protect the environment, and receive community development funds to empower and uplift their communities.