In a global marketplace where consumers are looking for responsibly sourced products, Fair Trade CertifiedTM (FTC) goods offer third-party verification that their purchases help positively impact workers’ lives, their communities and the environment. Fair Trade certification not only aligns with MEC’s Responsible Sourcing Program, but it helps us move beyond purely auditing to further develop our social responsibility activities and responsible resourcing efforts as well as establishing fair wages for workers and ensuring that their rights are respected. Thanks to member interest, the MEC Fair Trade collection has grown from two to 32 classic pieces in just two years.
MEC Social Compliance Manager Samantha Kuchmak is at the forefront of MEC’s Fair Trade program and travels to factories across the world in pursuit of improving working conditions for those producing MEC brand apparel and gear. Here’s her unique perspective on the Fair Trade program:
What does the Fair Trade program at MEC look like?
In order for a product to be Fair Trade Certified it must be made in a factory that is certified under the Fair Trade Factory standard, set by Fair Trade USA. MEC then pays an additional financial premium for each garment on top of the price of the product, which goes directly into a worker-managed bank account. Prior to certification, Fair Trade USA conducts an assessment of the factory and numerous other local, regional and country-specific indicators to determine the premium amount for each individual factory, ranging between 1 and 10% of Freight On Board (the price of the garment when it leaves the factory). Workers vote on how to use this money to address their most important needs, such as providing women’s health services or scholarships for children of workers.
How has MEC’s involvement helped workers directly?
Sales of MEC’s first FTC clothing – women’s t-shirts – contributed to the premium account that allowed workers at the Pratibha Syntex factory in India to purchase 2,711 rain coats for monsoon season in 2014. They would previously arrive soaked from their walk to work and spend the whole day in wet clothes, which was not only uncomfortable for the workers but posed numerous health and safety risks, so the results have been very tangible. By investing in Fair Trade practices, MEC ensures garment workers have safe working conditions, a voice in the workplace, higher earnings and equal treatment for women.
What is MEC’s actual role in Fair Trade factories on the ground?
The Fair Trade USA program is a collaborative partnership between Fair Trade USA staff, factory and farm partners, brands like MEC and consumers.
Fair Trade USA staff in India work directly with our two Fair Trade factory partners to assist management by providing training and compliance support and engage the Fair Trade Committee as they identify and implement premium projects. Many MEC staff visit the factories throughout the year, including designers, developers, production staff, sourcing staff and members of the social compliance team. I like to think of our role as supportive rather than prescriptive.
The Fair Trade USA team also conducts an annual social and environmental audit that is tied to the facility’s certification. MEC accepts the Fair Trade USA audit since the Fair Trade standards are in line with MEC’s Supplier Code of Conduct. When visiting the Fair Trade facilities and communicating with them throughout the year, we work collaboratively with the Fair Trade team and any other brands purchasing FTC products in the same facilities. This harmonized approach to auditing and communication alleviates the number of audits a facility may receive, streamlining communication and requirements – ensuring we are all assessing and discussing priorities together.
Where do we need to improve still? Where can we set our sights for the future?
Our program has room to grow. Fair Trade certification strengthens MEC’s efforts with facility partners to further improve conditions and as we continue to expand this product line, we are beginning to monitor member feedback – so far the reception has been positive.
How has your Fair Trade knowledge influenced your purchases?
I am not going to lie; I am attracted to aesthetic products. Equally so, I look for labels to see if the purchase aligns with my values – is it organic, Fair Trade Certified, etc. I also aim to support brands who I know have active environmental and social programs throughout their supply chain. I find checking out a brand’s website is a great place to start.
Fair Trade USA also lists a few ways consumers can remain aware:
- Look for the label. The program only works when you actually purchase the products.
- Get Involved. As they say, think globally and act locally. Join or start a Fair Trade Campaign in your community to help grow awareness, availability and commitment to Fair Trade.
- Spread the Word. It all starts with a simple act of sharing. Tell your family and friends why you support Fair Trade.
You travel a lot for work. What do you never leave home without?
My running shoes. In order to make the most of the time in Asia and South East Asia, I work a lot. Taking time to go for a morning run is a great way to explore a new area and maintain energy through long travel stints.
What’s in your travel bag?
In my favourite carry-on bag, the MEC Cascade Tote, you will find: my laptop, an issue of The Economist, noise canceling headphones and my iPhone, a book (currently reading: The Golden Spruce by John Vaillant), my Fair Trade lip chap, mints or gum, a hair brush, my wallet and my passport.