We all know that our lives and brains are full and that it’s hard to really have a full grasp of a complicated issue unless it’s in our job description (or an honest passion). But hey, we also know that if we get the basics, that’s often enough and we can always add as we go. That’s a lot of life, right?
Ethical accreditation schemes are complex, multilayered and not without their problems. But grasp the basics and you can look more closely at those that you are interested in or come across in your research (er, shopping). There are three basic items to consider in any scheme:
- The standards of the scheme, plus the value that it adds to the product (the story it tells)
- How these standards are interpreted and acted on by producers
- How the production process is validated against the standards
Let’s look at these in turn, using some practical examples from schemes that we include in the lines that we offer.
What are the standards of the scheme? Australian Made provides a clear example. Although they have several logos for different types of products and markets (such as clothes vs food, domestic and exports), the most familiar is Australian Made. The standards are: “the product has been manufactured here (not just packaged or assembled) AND 50% or more of the cost of making it can be attributed to Australian materials and/or production processes.” There is some question about the latter rule but there are often ingredients or processes that are only available outside of Australia. The value for businesses is clear- according to their own research, “The Australian Made, Australian Grown logo is recognised by 98% of Australians and trusted by 89% as an identifier of genuine Aussie products.” And while accessibility is a barrier for some schemes, the Australian Made logo is available on a sliding scale, which is beneficial for both sides.
How are standards interpreted and acted on? As Fairtrade is a complex and robust scheme, so they are a good example of what ‘interpreted and acted on’ can mean. The Fairtrade standards include “protection of worker’s rights and the protection of children, the preservation of the environment, payment of the Fairtrade Minimum Price and an additional Fairtrade premium to invest in initiatives to support local communities or business development.” As you may have already guessed, the part about trade is really the only one with clear standards that apply across all Fairtrade products. The others are left to the interpretation, albeit with guidance from the certification body, of the producers. But as you can imagine, a cooperative is likely to be more interested than a plantation owner on the other aspects of this standard. This is a sticking point for even the best accreditation schemes – something is usually missing.
How is the process validated against the standard? Ethical Clothing Australia (ECA) strives to ensure that local clothing manufacturers are both fully transparent and legally compliant. Their validation process is straight forward: annual third-party compliance audits (the third party in this case is respected and knowledgeable: the Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia). Regular audits from a reliable third party with no vested interest in the outcome is vital to hold producers accountable and ensure that the scheme has value.
More than ever, producers, consumers, journalists and competing schemes are aware of the numerous faults and keep a keen eye on what is happening in this sector. No scheme gets it completely right. Fairtrade is easy to execute with tradable commodities, but is much harder to manage when there are wide price variables, such as in the crafts industry. Even the ECA has been criticised for not looking at the supply chain beyond Australia. So if no accreditation scheme gets it right, should these labels just be ignored? Not at all.
I believe that we are very close to seeing brands learn from this weakness and manage their entire chain supply with these issues in mind. We’re looking forward to adding new activewear into our shop soon, and we are checking ourselves more about what we offer and why (including accreditation of our suppliers!). And now that you have the basics, I’m sure you will too.
Reminder: to honour Fashion Revolution Week, we are having a sale on our ECA-accredited and Australian Made brands Dharma Bums and Yogiic- an amazing 20% off for the whole week (April 24th-April 30th), no coupon required. #whomademyclothes is more than a hashtag – it’s a responsibility.
All the best,