Fair Trade, What Is It?

Fair Trade Fabrics

We sell a huge variety of Fairtrade fabrics, but do you know what that actually means and why it's so important?

The first thing that you might have noticed is the two different spellings: "Fairtrade" and "Fair Trade". It's important to note that the single word "Fairtrade" usually refers to the accreditation, where as the two, seperate words "Fair Trade" can simply refer to the act of trading fairly and does not imply a certification has been acheived. {Sometimes however, for SEO purposes, you may find that both are used in tandem, including on our site for better searching and visibility}.

The Fairtrade certification can be a difficult and expensive accreditation to attain, so it's important not to disregard companies who apply "Fair Trade" (fairly traded) working methods. There are an increasing number of fashion businesses which call themselves fair trade or have garments which state fairly traded but are not accredited by a body. In some circumstances, they are developing pioneering work with underprivileged groups, however, it is important to ask more questions about the fair trade standards they set out and how these are guaranteed.

Fairtrade Certifications

Fairtrade simply means that not only are the farmers and people who produce the fabric guaranteed a fair wage - so this is from raw material to the finished garment - but their health and welfare is looked after too. Fairtrade is key in helping the fashion and textile industry work towards ending exploitation, forced labour and overcoming poverty through trade.

Some people don't realise that there are several certifying bodies, each with their own criteria, who can guarantee that companies adhere to Fairtrade principles. A few of the most popular accrediting organisations include:

  • The World Fair Trade Organisation
  • The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and the Fairtrade mark for cotton
  • Fairtrade Certified
  • Fairtrade Foundation's Fairtrade International mark
  • Fair Labor Association

It's also worth noting that the International Labour Organisation, Cotton Made In Africa, Fair Wear Foundation, Fair For Life and the British Association for Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers also look to standardise and trace fairly traded materials and goods across the fashion and textile supply chain.

Fair trade in the fashion sector began within small co-operatives developing textiles and handicrafts, which has now developed to include Fairtrade cotton. The Fairtrade Foundation says that Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. It addresses the injustices of conventional trade (not just fabric), which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers.

Fairtrade Certification for cotton was launched in the UK in 2005 by The Fairtrade Foundation. Through supporting fair trade companies, consumers can benefit the communities behind them, and encourage more companies to source to fair trade standards.

1. The World Fair Trade Organisation

The World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) is a global network of fair trade organisations. WFTO’s mission is to enable producers to improve their livelihoods and communities through Fair Trade.

WFTO standards include criteria for working conditions, wages, child labour and the environment. These are verified by self-assessment, mutual reviews and external verifications.

There are over 350 Fair Trade Organisations working with WFTO in 70 countries. Many of these organisations specialise in a variety of traditional techniques in textiles, fashion, jewellery and accessories.

Some fashion designers and businesses such as People Tree choose to buy from and work with WFTO members. This is one way of ensuring that the profits from the sales of goods are going directly to the people who make them, and that workers are paid well and treated fairly.

2. The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation and the Fairtrade mark for cotton

The Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) is primarily connected to the agricultural industry. Its original aims were to guarantee good standards and wages for farmers. It began by certifying perishable goods like bananas and chocolate, then in 2005 extended this to cotton. This in turn has had an impact on the textile industry. The FLO has created a logo for all the goods they accredit; in written form it is all one word and capital letters i.e. FAIRTRADE. There is also a swirl logo, used on goods to identify them as FAIRTRADE.

The Fairtrade Foundation is the independent non-profit organisation that licenses use of the FAIRTRADE Mark on products in the UK in accordance with internationally agreed Fairtrade standards.

Within the clothing and textile industry, the Fairtrade mark only covers the cotton production phase, though companies are required to have a social compliance assessment for the garment production, (which is assessed and accredited by external auditors). Moreover, the Fairtrade Foundation is working in partnership with other agencies to develop a comprehensive accreditation for the manufacturing phase.


If you're interested in diving deeper into complexities of certifications and standards, you can find a full Masterclass on the topic 'Demystifying Certifications and Standards' over on our sister business, The Sustainable Fashion Collective.