Interview with Heather Franzese of Fair Trade USA

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April 2, 2012

11:48 PM

Heather Franzese is Senior Manager of Fair Trade USA .She recently spoke with W&M students of Ethical Fashion, a seminar offered jointly by the Hispanic Studies and Sharpe Community Scholars programs and taught by Professor Regina Root.  Charles Michael Dunn Steiner, a seminar participant and president of the Student Ethical Fashion Organization, interviewed Ms. Franzese on 3/26/2012.

1. Students at The College of William and Mary are very interested in fair trade initiatives, with our first fair trade festival held here last year.  So what exactly is a “Fair Trade” product and how does it come to be certified by Fair Trade USA?

The Fair Trade CertifiedTM  label, now found in over 70,000 retail locations throughout the United States, ensures shoppers that the farmers and workers producing the labeled goods are paid fair prices and wages, work in safe conditions, produce products in ways that protect the environment, and earn community development funds to empower and improve their communities. The third-party verification guarantees that our strict social, economic and environmental standards have been met.

In a nutshell, Fair Trade is a market-based approach to alleviating poverty in ways that improve lives and protect the environment.

2. Fair Trade USA began to certify apparel and linens in late 2010.  Which products have become Fair Trade Certified and what might we see in the future?

The Fair Trade CertifiedTM label is now found on more than 11,000 products throughout the United States, across multiple categories. Some Fair Trade Certified products include coffee, cocoa, sugar, tea, spices, flowers, grains, sports balls, and more.

Fair Trade Certified Apparel not only benefits the farmers who grow the cotton, but also the factory workers who sew the garments. It offers consumers the unprecedented opportunity to positively impact the lives of farmers and workers throughout an entire supply chain.  A few pioneering companies who have embraced Fair Trade Certified apparel are: Good & Fair Clothing, HAE Now, Maggie’s Organics, Prana, and Tompkins Point Apparel.

In the future, we hope to significantly increase the amount of people who benefit from Fair Trade. We are proud of what we have accomplished– farmers, responsible companies, NGOs and conscious consumers all working together. Yet the need is much greater. According to the World Bank, more than 2 billion people live on less than 2 USD a day. Today’s Fair Trade model reaches only a small percentage of them. Fair Trade can and must do more. That is why we have made a commitment to

double our impact by 2015 by strengthening farming communities, including more farmers and workers, and increasing consumer awareness.

3. Can you please describe how Fair Trade USA seeks to create opportunity and a sustainable future in the communities with which it collaborates?  Do you recall a memorable case in which a community’s collaboration with Fair Trade USA had a positive impact on their well being?

Farmers in Fair Trade Certified producer groups are guaranteed a fair price for their crops, and are empowered to compete in the global marketplace through direct, long-term contracts with international buyers. This market access lifts farming families from poverty through trade – not aid – keeping food on the table, children in school and families on their land.  Farmers and workers are also paid an additional Fair Trade premium for use on long-term social and business development projects such as healthcare, scholarships, women’s leadership initiatives and micro-finance programs, as voted on by the farmers and workers themselves.

Small farmers in India and West Africa grow Fair Trade cotton. I used to live in Mali and have visited the farmers in India. I have seen the dignity and pride that Fair Trade brings to their communities. Some farm groups have built schools, so their children don’t have to walk two hours to the nearest school house. Another group built a small lentil processing mill, so they can earn more for their rotation crops and have healthier food for their families. In parts of India, the debt and desperation is so great that farmers have been committing suicide by ingesting their own pesticides. Fair Trade has given them hope.

4. Can you please describe the environmental and labor conditions that Fair Trade USA strives to help communities achieve? Also, how do you consolidate your reviews of both the environmental and labor practices to make your final decision of certification? Does one area take preference over another in your evaluation?

The Fair Trade Certified label is all about impact. Beyond a fair price, Fair Trade USA’s Fair Trade standards work to enable sustainable farming practices, eliminate child and slave labor, prohibit the use of toxic agrochemicals and GMO’s, and ensure safe working conditions. They also require democratic decision making, provide important business training, and promote overall community development and worker empowerment. Fair Trade is a real and tangible way to make a difference in the lives of the people who work so hard to bring food to our tables.

In order for a farm to become certified, they must meet and adhere to a rigorous set of social, environmental, and economic Fair Trade standards. These standards address things like chemical use, GMO’s, water conservation, child labor, forced labor, working conditions, etc…Farms are audited on a regular basis by Fair Trade USA’s audit and certification partners (SCS and FLO-Cert). If farms meet ALL of the standards they can become/remain certified.

When Fair Trade USA first evaluated US market demand for Fair Trade cotton back in 2006, we found that consumers and companies here are even more concerned about the well-being of factory workers in apparel supply chains than of cotton farmers. When you pull a shirt from the rack and think about how it was made, the first thing you think about is factory workers, not the farmers of the raw fiber. You want to be sure that garment was not made in a sweatshop.

Fair Trade USA’s apparel factory standards build on best practice codes of conduct such as SA8000 and add a direct economic benefit for workers in the form of a Fair Trade premium. Now consumers can vote with their dollars for an alternative to sweatshops.

5. Many William and Mary students will seek jobs in the business sector post graduation. In your opinion, how do big retail brands view the Fair Trade Movement?

We live in a moment in history where more and more consumers want to know where their products come from—and more and more people are demanding that their favorite brands offer responsibly sourced products. Fair Trade USA works with over 700 business partners, ranging from small, mission-driven companies to large, nationally and internationally distributed brands. The Fair Trade Certified label is a mechanism for companies, large and small, to communicate a strong commitment to social and environmental responsibility directly to consumers at the point of purchase.

Consumers continue to vote with their dollars, choosing products produced in ways that improve lives and protect the environment. To date, Fair Trade USA and our partners have empowered over 1.5 million farmers in 70 developing countries earn fair prices for their products in the global market, and have also returned over $220 million in additional income to farming families across multiple product categories.

6. Keeping in mind that a large number of students here at the College are studying the dynamics of globalization through the lens of many disciplines, please consider the following:

Some of your work has involved the certification of fair trade factories in Central and South America.  As a guest speaker at Ixel Moda (the largest fashion congress in the Americas held in Cartagena, Colombia), you recently shared what we might learn from the successes and challenges of these factories.  Can you share some of your findings with us?

I have worked with factories in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru. Each country has its own labor laws, distinct from international conventions and from Fair Trade standards.  Our aim is always to promote the highest standards, whether that be national or international law, and to add the pillars of income and empowerment so that workers can earn more and have a voice in the workplace.

We promote workers’ rights through a worker training program at Fair Trade factories. The local language curriculum promotes awareness of workers’ legally entitled wages and benefits under national law, their rights under international conventions, and confidential complaints mechanisms inside and outside the factory if they feel their rights or Fair Trade standards are not being upheld.

How do you see Fair Trade USA’s relationship with China and India, the first and second largest producers of textiles in the world, developing over the next few years?

Our pilot of Fair Trade Certified apparel began in India, a natural fit because of India’s thriving textile industry with vertically integrated mills, abundant supply of organic Fair Trade cotton, and cultural alignment with the values of Fair Trade and community development. The first factory in the world approved under our new apparel standards is located in Calcutta.

The apparel program has not yet been extended to China, where state restrictions on freedom of association make it difficult for manufacturers there to meet rigorous Fair Trade standards.

8.  What kind of volunteer/activist opportunities do you see as critical for undergraduates? How can we as college students help support fair trade practices?

The biggest thing to remember here is that it’s easy to make a difference—that your purchases really do matter. With a simple chocolate bar, banana, or cup of coffee, you can positively impact the lives of farmers and workers around the world.

To get more involved, help your town or university go Fair Trade. Our movement-building efforts focus on NGO alliances as well as grassroots campaigns such as Fair Trade Towns, Fair Trade Universities and outreach to faith-based communities. Read more about how to become a part of the Fair Trade movement and start a Fair Trade campaign at your own college campus or local community by checking out

these links:

Fair Trade Universities: http://www.fairtradetownsusa.org/why/universities/

Fair Trade Towns: http://www.fairtradetownsusa.org/

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