The Fairtrade Foundation already works with parts of the textile supply chain, such as cotton farmers, to help workers secure a fair price for their produce. Increasingly, consumers with ethical concerns can buy clothing carrying the Fairtrade Mark – a label which guarantees high trading and environmental standards in developing countries.

However, there is currently no system in place for workers involved in other stages of the supply chain to share in Fairtrade benefits. For example, while a T-shirt with the Fairtrade Mark may tell you the cotton used to make the garment was grown and sold on fair terms; the workers involved in stitching the t-shirt, or embellishing it, or dyeing it, will not have benefited.

TRAID funded the Fairtrade Foundation to investigate how to extend the reach and benefits of Fairtrade through the supply chain by empowering textile workers to access and claim their rights. The project worked intensively with one factory in Tirapur, a garment manufacturing region in South India to develop a model to improve conditions for its employees.

Workshops brought owners, management and garment workers together for the first time as equals, to identify areas for improvement. These included working conditions, payment on time, cleanliness on the factory floor and worker/management communication. The project provided training on labour rights, communication and problem solving, and established a women’s forum on health, hygiene and harassment. It also implemented a new workplace methodology which has improved cleanliness and efficiency.

This work impacted on the factory’s 650 staff and improvements include wages being paid on time, improved relations with supervisors, two women representatives, use of names when talking to factory floor staff and installation of water facilities and an ATM machine.

Findings from the project have contributed to an international Fairtrade strategy on how best to challenge inequalities in the textile supply chain, and ensure the development and empowerment of workers in textile supply chains around the world.