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Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 2:29 pm

‘Fair Trade’ Clothing to Hit the Shelves by Fall, as U.S. Certifier Expands Scope

By Sara Peck
By Sara Peck

If you love the holier-than-thou jolt from sipping "fair-trade" Starbucks coffee and eating Divine Chocolates bars or the latest organic-fairtrade-buckwheat-agave-food-of-the-moment, I've got good news for you: You’ll soon be able to wear ethically produced goodies too.

Select manufacturers will roll out their fair-trade-certified duds this August, said Stacy Geagan Wagner, a spokeswoman for TransFairUSA, which, according to its website, is "the only third-party certifier of Fair Trade products in the United States."

Wagner would not disclose which U.S. manufacturers have been certified as officially fair trade, though. Currently there are fair-trade fibers (e.g., cotton) available, but August will mark the first time that garment factories producing clothing will be fair-trade-certified. (Don't be surprised if fair-trade earth tone "eco-chic" pants are all the rage this fall.) TransFairUSA has been working on this project for four years, Wagner said.

Fair-trade farms have been selling cocoa, coffee and other foods since the late 1990s, and the ethical consumption movement has only gained strength since then. Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club have all hopped on the fair-trade wagon, and Ben and Jerry’s recently created fair-trade flavors and plans to fully transition all of its products to fair-trade by 2013, Wagner said. In other words, the fair-trade movement has gone completely mainstream, proving that profits and ethical sourcing of goods can actually overlap quite a bit.

Or can they?

Jeff Ballinger, a garment industry labor expert, criticizes the TransFairUSA pilot program because it “doesn’t deal with the underlying issue” of lawless environments and poverty. Ballinger believes that certification agencies should try to pressure governments to self-regulate and pass laws, rather than those agencies just checking up on factories and giving them their official seal of approval (which becomes part of a product's marketed persona). The “monitoring model” of certification can only go so far, Ballinger says, and agencies need to have sharper teeth. “You cannot build a reliable certification system based on ‘best practices’ gleaned from what’s gone on in this decade of deception,” he says.

Sara Peck, a spring 2010 In These Times editorial intern, is a Northwestern University student studying journalism and political science.

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