A Fair Trade Certified™ seal indicates that an item was made by people in safe and healthy working conditions, who have a voice in their workplace, and that the workplace is one where women are treated equally. It also lets you know that workers received additional money for the Fair Trade items they made, which can help improve their lives. MEC Label sold our first Fair Trade Certified clothing in 2014 – women’s t-shirts – and we’ve continued with this program ever since.
What exactly is Fair Trade clothing?
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. The Fair Trade team makes sure factories follow this standard to ensure safe, healthy, and fair working conditions that prioritizes the welfare of workers and protects the environment.
But that’s only one part of Fair Trade Certification. The other part involves what’s known as a “financial premium.” For each product made in the factory, MEC pays an extra amount (1–10% of the price we pay for the product, depending on the premium rate determined by Fair Trade USA). This premium goes directly into a bank account that’s managed by the workers themselves. To decide what to do with the premium funds, workers elect their peers to a Fair Trade Committee. The committee members figure out what’s needed most by local households and the community, then develop several potential projects to address those needs. All workers vote on these projects to decide how the Fair Trade premium funds get used for that year.
Every purchase of Fair Trade products supports a program that creates meaningful change in the lives of people around the world.
How MEC works with Fair Trade USA
Some people ask why MEC partners with Fair Trade USA and not other Fair Trade certifying groups. The main reason is simple: not all Fair Trade certifications include garment and equipment manufacturers within their scope, and Fair Trade USA does. They’ve been a great partner with us since we started this program.
Fair Trade USA staff work directly with our Fair Trade factory partners to help factory managers with training and know-how to support their workplace. MEC staff also visit the factories, and our role is supportive rather than prescriptive. As well, the Fair Trade USA team checks in with the Fair Trade committee as the committee plans and rolls out the premium projects.
All Fair Trade Certified factories are required to uphold the Fair Trade Factory Standard. But it doesn’t stop there. MEC, as a brand doing business with these factories, is also required to meet specific standards from Fair Trade USA. Our internal processes are audited annually against a “trade standard” to make sure we’re doing business fairly. This trade standard looks at everything from our purchasing practices to our traceability of payments and products (i.e., to make sure items labelled Fair Trade products are actually made in Fair Trade Certified factories).
Examples of Fair Trade projects that made a difference
Fair Trade premium projects have real, tangible impacts in communities around the world. Because the workers get to decide what’s needed most, the projects are specific to each location and each year. Over the years, some of the ways workers have voted to use the premiums for MEC Label products include:
Pithampur, India: Workers have purchased raincoats for the monsoon season, water filters for clean drinking water at home, and household items (such as a refrigerator, fan, blender or washing machine) to cut down on the time spent doing chores and increase time with family.
Sampran, Thailand: Workers voted to use premiums to fund language classes at the factory, and to purchase fitness equipment for their workplace. They’ve also used them for a weekly fitness class, with incentives like a t-shirt, running shoes and a towel for continuous participation. This project encourages health, wellness and camaraderie for their team.
Madurai, India: Workers voted to use premiums for items like induction ovens, pressure cookers and tiffin carriers to help save them time preparing homemade food. They’ve also used them for electric fans, irons and water filters for clean drinking water.
Through the Fair Trade program, the factory employees learn about Fair Trade, their rights under the standards, how to manage and invest income, and ways to improve communication with management. Workers are also able to participate in the democratic process by electing co-workers to a Fair Trade committee.
Overall, Fair Trade certification is empowering for everyone involved: workers trying to improve their lives, factory managers wanting to do things right, brands like MEC backing these efforts, and people who want their purchases to be a choice that matters.
Our Fair Trade targets
Because we’ve seen the difference Fair Trade has made in our own supply chain, we’ve set goals to grow the Fair Trade program at MEC and impact more workers. We have targets to source 50% of MEC Label products on Fair Trade Certified terms by 2025 and 80% by 2030. This means more dollars going directly to workers, and more workers benefiting from the Fair Trade Certified program.
For annual updates on how MEC is tracking, check out our sustainability progress report.