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The clothing one buys at a store nearby might come from any country in the world. The fair trade label on a garment is an assurance that the consumer is not contributing to the exploitation of workers just to get lower-priced apparel. A fair-trade T-shirt is a garment produced by a manufacturing company that respects its workers' rights, ensures worker safety and pays fair wages.
As manufacturers seek to maintain or increase profit margins, some companies move their production to countries where labor laws are not strict. This allows these companies to ignore workers rights, including the right to organize and express grievances. In the worst cases, these manufacturers also fail to provide safe working conditions and livable wages. A T-shirt produced under these conditions would likely violate labor laws in the manufacturer's home country.
A fair trade T-shirt is produced in a manner that respects the people who produce the garment. The manufacturer provides safe working conditions for the workers and pays at least minimum wage for the country where the production occurs. A fair trade T-shirt also is produced without using school-age children as production workers.
In many less-developed countries with less stringent labor laws, various international organizations work to help garment workers protect their rights, secure livable wages and demand safe working conditions. These organizations often assist workers by creating cooperatives whose members produce and sell fair trade T-shirts. When workers band together to form cooperatives, they can set their own prices for the apparel they make.
The international organizations and worker cooperatives sell fair trade T-shirts at competitive prices. They are able to keep prices reasonable because of the alternate distribution channels they use. These cooperatives bypass some of the intermediaries that mark up the price of garments at each step of the traditional apparel distribution process.
Manufacturers that observe fair trade practices may attach labels to their garments to assurance their consumers that they are purchasing a fair trade T-shirt or other fair trade clothing item. Producers who are members of the Fair Trade Federation or the World Fair Trade Federation commonly use the "Fair Trade Certified" label in a fair trade T-shirt. In some cases, fair trade apparel has the "Fair for Life Social & Fairtrade Certified” label.
For garments with no labels, one should request information from the manufacturer about the company's labor practices. The company’s public relations representative should know if the manufacturer is a member of a national or international fair trade organization. One also can verify company practices through the organizations that promote fair trade and help workers throughout the world to protect their rights.