Fair Trade Jewellery – Why Bother?

Fair trade jewellery does producers a world of good. That’s what the advertisements tell you. But does ethical trade really make a difference? Surely a fashion necklace isn’t going to change the world? Should we really bother buying ethical jewellery?

Traditionally, the fine and fashion jewellery industry has focused on marketing its products by romance and emotion. You fall in love with a fashion necklace or a glittering ring and it makes a beautiful accessory for a party or wedding. Most often, it never crossed our minds where it was made and who created it.

This view is increasingly out of date, where any responsible person realizes that we are all part of one global community that is interdependent. Is that gold ring contributing to environmental degradation in Peru? Is your fashion necklace being made by a Bangladeshi child forced to work in intolerable conditions for a pittance?

Supply chains are becoming increasingly transparent. Before, the old attitude was ‘out of sight, out of mind’ but with globalization, the internet, cheap travel and Facebook, that’s no longer possible or desirable. Many more people are beginning to ask whether fashion jewellery companies that hide their supply chains are doing so for a reason?

Worth it, but not worthy

But the new generation of fair trade jewellery designers who are leading the way by creating eco-friendly and ethical jewellery have realized that preaching to customers won’t get you anywhere.

In fact, the best way to help marginalized or exploited workers in developing countries is to create cutting-edge designs of fashion jewellery that are desirable because they’re stylish, beautiful and on-trend first and foremost. The fact that by purchasing these products means you are helping to build a fairer way of trading is the cherry on the cake.

How a piece of fair trade jewellery is made, whether it’s a fashion necklace or a gemstone ring, is important to the wearer because it’s part and parcel of its story.

The future of ethical jewellery

Of course, fair trade jewellery still only makes up a tiny proportion of the jewellery market, but the ethical jewellery movement is growing fast and gaining fans and space in the mainstream fashion world.

One day soon, it will be socially unacceptable for anyone to purchase jewellery that is not ethically sourced.

Eco Friendly Fashion Goes Mainstream (For Better Or Worse)

It wasn’t that long ago when eco friendly fashion was seen by most consumers and fashion industry insiders as a fad that only people on the outskirts of the normal purchasing populace embraced. Well-dressed folks the world over saw these eco friendly fashion offerings as being for “Hippies” or “Tree Huggers” but that attitude has turned around 360 degrees.

With a global focus on the Earth’s environment and daily attention from local and national news outlets, it’s not as easy to dismiss the concerns of those “outsiders” anymore and many mainstream clothing and accessory producers have adopted eco friendly fashion (or eco fashion as it’s now often called) as the wave of the future.

Many manufacturers including big names and international chains have eco fashion lines available. Not that Wal-Mart is a fashion chain at all but even their clothing departments have organic shirts and pants made from recycled materials if you know where to look for them. This adoption, however, has been a bit of a mixed blessing. Many of the original trendsetters in the eco fashion revolution have been overlooked by consumers as these relative newcomers gobble up the limelight.

What can you do to help? Buy from small outlets, medium-sized manufacturers, and local companies.

Shopping for what you want and finding what you need may take a little longer but you’ll feel a whole lot better about buying. In fact, one of the best things you can do is find outlets that sell fair trade fashion and accessories.

Fair trade fashion is not only more environmentally friendly (the raw materials are often grown locally and the finished products are produced with less mechanical and chemical intervention) but it supports local artisans and craftspeople-even in far-flung lands. Fair trade fashion items have undergone a lengthy certification process by national and international organizations dedicated to the protection of the rights and livelihoods of the laborers and craftspeople who produce the goods. When you buy fair trade clothing and accessories, you don’t have to worry that your new dress is made of recycled cotton but made by virtual slave labor!

After all, shouldn’t the clothing and accessories you were make you look good on the outside and feel good on the inside?

So the next time you’re surfing the internet for that perfect item of clothing, and accessories to go with it, take a minute of your time to make sure the items you are buying are “guilt-free.” You’ll remember it every time you wear them.

How the SA 8000 and Other Standards Are Shaking Up the Fashion Industry

Environmental, social and ethical pressures on the global textiles and fashion sector emerged in Europe in the early 1980s. The main driver was consumer concern over the safety of the materials. However, in parallel with this trend, a minority group of ethical consumers demanded “chemical-free” and low environmental impact clothing and fashion goods. This resulted in the European and later the U.S. organic labeling system being extended to include criteria for clothing and textiles, such as organic cotton. As of 2007, the sector was the fastest growing part of the global cotton industry with growth of more than 50% a year. Regarding safety standards, the Oeko-Tex standard has become highly popular in the industry. Although unknown to consumers, it tests for chemicals such as flame retardants in clothes and categorizes goods according to their likely exposure to humans (e.g. baby clothes must adhere to the strictest standards for chemicals). Thus the issue of chemicals in clothing has become largely one of liability risk control for the industry with the consumers obviously expecting products to pose no risk to their health. Organic and eco fashion and textiles attracts a far smaller, but fast growing group of consumers, largely in Western Europe and Coastal U.S.

Of far greater concern to the global fashion sector is the issue of worker welfare. The issue was highlighted by pressure groups such as:

Global Exchange in the U.S. targeting Levis and Nike and others.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s anecdotal evidence began emerging from labor activists in the U.S. and Europe concerning the supply chains and overseas factories of leading U.S. and European multinationals. A key target was the world’s leading maker of denim jeans Levi Strauss, but more significantly Nike, the world’s largest sports shoe marketing firm. Global Exchange launched its Nike Anti Sweatshop campaign, focusing on the firms sourcing in China and Indonesia.

A good deal of negotiations and stakeholder meetings led to a generally accepted code of practice for labor management in developing countries acceptable to most parties involved. The SA 8000 emerged as the leading industry driven voluntary standard on worker welfare issues. SA 8000 supporters now include the GAP, TNT and others and SAI reports that as of 2008, almost 1 million workers in 1,700 facilities have achieved SA 8000 certification. TheFair Trade movement has also had a significant impact on the fashion business. The standard combines a number of ethical issues of potential concern to consumers – environmental factors, fair treatment of developing country suppliers and worker welfare. The Fair Trade label has show explosive growth.

Albeit on a very small scale and not always at the top end of the fashion industry, many niche brands have emerged which promote themselves primarily on sustainability grounds. People Tree in the UK states that it “creates Fair Trade and organic clothing and accessories by forming lasting partnerships with Fair Trade, organic producers in developing countries. Leading fashion journal Marie Claire ranked its “top 10″ eco brands in a recent issue. The key issues remain chemicals in clothing (certified by organic and Fair Trade labels), worker treatment (certified by SA 8000 and Fair Trade) and increasingly mainstream environmental issues such as climate change. The world’s largest fashion brand Louis Vuitton recently acquired a small eco fashion label. It is clear, however, from the example of Nike and Levis, that certain issues are here to stay, such as a demand by Western consumers that leading brands manage the issue of worker welfare in their supply chain properly.