To help improve the lives of factory workers, Patagonia, the largest supplier of apparel made in Fair Trade Certified factories, has now scaled its Fair Trade program from one factory and 11 styles in fall 2014 to six factories and 218 styles this fall.
Since 2014, Patagonia, based in Ventura, Calif., said it has paid $639,000 in premiums that go directly to the workers making its apparel. By fall 2017, Patagonia expects to manufacture 300 styles – about one-third of its products – in Fair Trade Certified factories. Patagonia is one of more than 1,000 companies representing 30 product categories that sell Fair Trade Certified products.
“We live in the age of globalization and factory workers around the world are going to be plugged into the global market in one way or another and so for me, the question is, are they victims of the global market or are they being included in the benefits of globalization,” said Paul Rice, president and chief executive officer of Fair Trade USA. “We have to prove the business case for responsible business. If it’s just a philanthropic endeavor…it won’t scale. We have to prove that Fair Trade is good for business.”
More than 40 million people are directly involved in the global textile manufacturing industry and many are living in the poorest parts of the world, Patagonia noted, with working conditions and wages often inhumane and unacceptable.
Patagonia’s supply chain alone involves nearly 75 factories and more than 100,000 workers worldwide. As a complement to the company’s own factory monitoring program, the brand has partnered with Fair Trade USA, an organization that has developed a well-established program for ensuring products are made in factories and farms where workers are safe, treated with respect and paid fair compensation for their labor.
The premise is that for every product made by a Fair Trade Certified factory, companies such as Patagonia choose to pay an additional premium that workers can use to elevate their standard of living and bridge the gap between a minimum wage and a living wage. A worker-elected committee votes on how to spend the money — either as a cash bonus or to pay for social, economic and environmental community projects.
“Fair Trade USA’s approach has proven it contributes to a better standard of living, including pay and employee participation in the workplace and community. It also helps create better working-conditions and safeguards against the use of child labor,” said Rose Marcario, Patagonia’s president and chief executive officer. “One last benefit falls not to the workers, the factory or Patagonia as a brand, but to the customer who buys a Fair Trade Certified garment: every purchase is a vote, with the pocketbook, for good values, an all too rare opportunity in our global economy.”