Keynote: Safia Minney, CEO People Tree

Safia Minney #ftf09

People Tree is the first fair trade organic supply chain for fashion focused particularly in Asia.

One example of some of the people People Tree works with: Swallows- 200 women in Bangladesh who lost their menfolk in the War of Independence in 1971 – started working in handweaving and tailoring (was a typically male occupation) but had no expertise in pattern cutting or management – People Tree gave work and technical assistance. The social impact of this – the women are able to afford electricity, better living conditions, and to send their children to school till the age of 17 (rather than local average of 12)- PT pay twice the amount of average factory worker. (PT also run a Swallows school for 200 children form the local area)

Challenges to Fair Trade movement:

  • unfair competition
  • economies of scale and barriers to access
  • lower standards

People Tree products are fairtrade cotton, organic cotton, and fair trade manufacture – many mainstream producers may meet one of these (often FT cotton but not produced to FT standards). Mainstream companies are using FT as their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility)  but it doesn’t have much content

looking at the 10 Standards of Fair Trade in relation to the fashion industry:

  1. Creating opportunities for economically disadvantages producers: FT is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development. Its core purpose is to create opportunities for producers who have been economically disadvantages or marginalized by the conventional trading system
  2. Transparency and Accountability: FT involves transparent management and commercial relations to deal fairly and respectfully with trading partners
  3. Capacity Building: FT is a means to develop producers’ independence. FT relationships provide continuity, during which producers and their marketing organizations can improve their management skills and their access to new markets
  4. Promoting Fair Trade: FT organizations raise awareness of FT and the possibility of greater justice in world trade. They provide their customers with information about the organization, the products, and in what conditions they are made. They use honest advertising and marketing techniques and aim for the highest standards in product quality and packing
  5. Payment of a Fair Price: A fair price in the regional or local context is one that has been agreed through dialogue and participation. It covers not only the cost of production but enables production which is socially just and environmentally sound. It provides fair pay to the producers and takes into account the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men. Fair Traders ensure prompt payment to their partners and, whenever possible, help producers with access to pre-harvest or pre-production financing
  6. Gender Equity: FT means that women’s work is properly valued and rewarded. Women are always paid for their contribution to the production process and are empowered in their organizations
  7. Working conditions: FT means a safe and healthy working environment for producers. The participation of children (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play and conforms to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as well as the law and norms in the local context
  8. Child Labour: FT organizations respect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as local laws and social norms in order to ensure that the participation of children in production processes of fairly traded articles (if any) does not adversely affect their well-being, security, educational requirements and need pr play. Organizations working directly with informally organised producers disclose the involvement of children in production
  9. Trading Practices: The organization trades with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and does not maximize profit at their expense.
  10. Environment: Organizations which produce FT products maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources in their ranges, buying locally when possible. They use production technologies that seek to reduce energy consumption and where possible use renewable energy technologies that minimize greenhouse gas emissions.

We’ve all agreed what fairtrade is but in terms of execution and accessibility of processes is the issue. Second largest employment group – handweavers – could use grant funding to help them scale to creating product themselves

Fashion industry has extremely little strategy coming from high st retailers- will use a supplier but cut them the next year when trying to cut costs. Prices have come down by more than 4% in high st retailers – inflation in developing countries increasing by 10% year on year - retailers are squeezing suppliers – underpricing by large retailers means they then have to cut back on orders which impacts sustainability for the FT producers

Nothing going into textiles for capacity building – People Tree has to help skill people in pattern cutting etc – I would like to see Givenchy going into a handweaving village and committing to giving them work for the next 15 seasons – need to develop the demand side

Trade relations – we need to hold accountable companies who don’t show how much they are increasing their investment in FT over  the years

People Tree work with over 90% women – FT is working in rural areas to create an alternative to help women stay in their rural areas without having to go into vulnerable / dangerous areas

People Tree are strategic about partners they work with. Having their own stores means they can work right the way through production chain. Fair trade and organic supply chain = field -> fabric and dyeing – > screenprinting – > tailoring for 50% of our product, the rest is handmade – trying to encourage mainstream to take longer term investment in the process

Brand partnerships and synergies are important – PT have worked with high profile designers (Thakoon, Richard Nicholl) to create completely fair trade, hand made collection to show the high quality that can be achieved, also working with Topshop to create fair trade clothing right through supply chain. Now have collection going into John Lewis – also collaboration with Emma Watson (Harry Potter star) to create People Tree Youth collection.

Challenge for finance – access to fair finance for FT clothing companies – access to working capital with 9 month lead times, 50% advance payments etc – public share issues for FT fashion?

Q – how is a workshop different from a factory? and the difference between employment and producers- the difference in relationship between artisan vs employee

A – we employ homebase knitters – they work through a subgroup. Swallows group – started with a room of handlooms – over the 10 yrs we have managed to rebuild it, build a handicraft centre and daycare cenre – has evolved into a hand-skill centre

Q – traditional standards vs fair trade standards – whose responsibility is it for ensuring environmental standards are maintained and people producing them are genuinely fair traded?

A- the producing organisation and the purchasing organisation.

People Tree is listening to the consumer and the producer. We are trying to get people to share FT practices and ethical ideas

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