When buying clothes in North America, it is quite difficult to know whether or not they were produced in a sweatshop. But now, two leading independent groups have teamed up to try and make it easier for consumers to select ethically produced clothes, simply by looking at the label.
Transfair USA and Social Accountability Accreditation Services Social Accountability Accreditation Services (SAAS) – the agency that oversees the SA8000 certification for ethical factories (i.e. “non-sweatshops”) – teamed up this year to integrate auditing processes in a pilot project that will result in the first Fair Trade Certified jeans and t-shirts in the USA market! A groundbreaking effort on three fronts.
First, Fair Trade certifying bodies have been grappling to extend Fair Trade Certification beyond basic agricultural commodities (e.g. coffee, tea, fruit and cotton) to the production of garments and other factory made items. This recent move by Transfair USA to extend the Fair Trade label to clothing is the first of its kind. Consumers will soon be able to look at the label on their jeans and trust that they were not produced in a sweatshop.
Second, it is rare to see two third-party certifying bodies double check each other’s work, so to speak. Often, our trust, as consumers, must be put into a single certification system. Now, however, when consumers buy Fair Trade Certified apparel in the USA (on shelves in Fall 2010) they can be assured that SAAS was also closely involved in ensuring that the garments were not stitched together in a sweatshop. This brings a new level of strength and legitimacy to third-party product certifications.
Third, Transfair USA and SAAS’s partnership is also groundbreaking in that they are working together to make it easier for factories to demonstrate compliance with ethical standards. Ethical compliance auditing processes can be cumbersome and many manufacturing facilities are reporting “audit fatigue” as a result of having to complete multiple audits per year for different agencies. Transfair USA and SAAS’s efforts to integrate their auditing process will help alleviate some of this pressure.
This type of partnership between Transfair USA and SAAS will hopefully generate a ripple effect in the third-party product certification space. Will we see more certifying bodies joining forces to harmonize standards and auditing processes? Or will consumers continue to have to wade through multiple certifications and try to decipher which ones are better? Reeve looks forward to seeing how this will influence other agencies and maybe one day Transfair Canada will partner with someone like SAAS and bring Fair Trade Certified clothing to our stores.
Click here for more information on this partnership.