MEC Fair Trade factory

The real deal behind Fair Trade at MEC

When you choose Fair Trade Factory Certified™ products, your purchase helps positively impact workers’ lives, their communities and the environment. Fair Trade certification not only aligns with MEC’s goals around responsible sourcing, but it helps us go beyond purely auditing, establishes fair wages for workers and ensures that their rights are respected.

The MEC Label Fair Trade collection started in 2014 with women’s t-shirts and a single factory. Thanks to its popularity and impact, our Fair Trade collection has grown. Today, there are four Fair Trade Certified factories making MEC Label products, and MEC has sent a total of over $300,000 to factory workers. The range of products has expanded too, and now has everything from hiking pants and merino shirts to kids’ clothes and hoodies.

We often hear that people know Fair Trade is a good thing, but that they don’t really know exactly how it works – or what it means for the people working at Fair Trade Certified factories.

Here’s a deeper look to help you understand how your choices make a difference around the world.

Today, there are four Fair Trade Certified factories making MEC Label products, and MEC has sent a total of $300,000 to factory workers.

Real deal behind Fair Trade

The main factory floor at Pratibha Syntex Ltd., which made the first Fair Trade Certified clothing for MEC.

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. For each garment made in the factory, MEC then gives an additional financial premium on top of the price of the product. This premium goes directly into a worker-managed bank account.

Before certification, Fair Trade USA does an assessment of the factory and 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 the premiums to address the most important needs of their households and the community. When you purchase Fair Trade products, you support a program that creates meaningful change in the lives of people around the world.

How has MEC’s involvement helped workers directly?

Sales of MEC’s first Fair Trade Certified clothing – women’s t-shirts in 2014 – contributed to the premium account that allowed workers at the Pratibha Syntex factory in India to purchase 2,711 rain coats for monsoon season. They would previously arrive soaked from their walk to work and spend the whole day in wet clothes, which was not only uncomfortable but posed health and safety risks, so the results were very tangible.

Since then, Fair Trade premiums from MEC Label have funded a wide range of projects that have had direct impact in people’s lives, including:

  • Household items, such as a refrigerator, fan, blender or washing machine. These items cut down on the time spent doing chores, increase time with family, and improve quality of life.
  • Water filters for clean, bacteria-free drinking water.
  • Food preparation items (like induction ovens, pressure cookers and tiffin carriers) to help save them time preparing homemade food.
  • Language classes at the factory.
  • A pesticide-free vegetable garden, which also provided produce to workers during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Fitness equipment for their workplace to encourage health, wellness and camaraderie for their team. Plus a weekly fitness class with incentives like a t-shirt, running shoes and a towel for continuous participation.

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.

Tailor in Fair Trade factory

One of the skilled tailors at Pratibha Syntex, a Fair Trade factory partner of MEC.

How is Fair Trade helping during COVID-19?

The global crisis of a pandemic impacted industries around the world, and the garment industry was no exception. When COVID-19 required factories to shut down, Fair Trade USA took swift action to help workers. In April 2020, they increased the flexibility of use of Fair Trade premium funds, which enabled workers to use them more immediately to address their critical needs. One of the making MEC Label products elected to use the funds for emergency cash payments for their workers, and Emergency Premiums were distributed directly into the bank accounts of to provide immediate financial relief.

When you purchase Fair Trade products, you support a program that creates meaningful change in the lives of people around the world.

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 (like you).

Fair Trade USA staff work directly with our Fair Trade factory partners to assist management by providing training and compliance support. They also engage the Fair Trade Committee as the committee identifies and implements premium projects. MEC staff visit the factories as well (on pause for now due to COVID-19), and our role is 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. We work collaboratively with the Fair Trade team and any other brands purchasing Fair Trade Certified products in the same facilities. This harmonized approach to auditing and communication streamlines the number of audits, communication and requirements a facility may receive – and ultimately ensures we are all assessing and discussing priorities together.

Person holding a large piece of fabric that's coming out of a machine and into a large tub

Fabrics being washed at Thai Eastern Industry, which creates the MEC All Day Essentials line of clothing.

Want to help and make a difference?

A few ways consumers can help:

  • Look for the label. The program only works when you actually purchase the products.
  • Spread the word. It all starts with a simple act of sharing. Tell your family and friends why you support Fair Trade.
  • 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.

A few of my favourite MEC Label Fair Trade products

Right now, since I’m spending lots of time at home, I’m loving MEC All Day Essentials shirts and MEC Classic Joggers. They’re so comfy and soft, and are awesome value for clothing that’s both Fair Trade certified and made with bluesign®-approved fabrics.

Of course, MEC Label is just one brand with Fair Trade options. Some other Fair Trade favourites of mine? The Patagonia Snap-T Pullover has been my trusted fleece for years, and Cocoa Camino Dark Mint Chocolate is incredibly tasty.

Note: all photos in factories were taken before COVID-19.

Sophie Merritt
Sophie Merritt

MEC sustainability leader who’s happiest hunting for waves to surf or pow to ski. Always humbled and inspired by nature. Pronouns: she/her.