To learn more in depth our opinion on Unions and Fair Trade, keep reading this Q & A:

What are the differences between Union Made and Fair Trade?

First, check out the ten WFTO standards that define Fair Trade organizations:

  1. Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
  2. Transparency and Accountability
  3. Trading Practices
  4. Payment of a Fair Price
  5. Child Labor and Forced Labor
  6. Non Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association
  7. Working Conditions
  8. Capacity Building
  9. Promotion of Fair Trade
  10. Environment

Looking at these, and a little union history, one can see the Labor and Fair Trade movements have different histories:

  • Workers internationally developed unions in response to unjust treatment. Fair Trade was developed when consumers in the global North wanted to end worker abuses in the global south.
  • Unions are new to the green movement, while Fair Trade has taken a more holistic approach by including environmental standards.

We’re seeing these distinctions blur somewhat as projects such as Domestic Fair Trade, Alta Gracia, and the Blue-Green Alliance take shape. International solidarity between union organizers and fair traders has also helped bridge this gap!

Does this mean that soon everything will be Union Made and Fair Trade Certified, and vice-versa?

No.  Unions inherently target systems where the workers have little chance of becoming owners because they are producing within complex supply chains that require large amounts of capital to maintain. Fair Trade supply chains are traditionally simpler and require less initial and continued investment to maintain.

Can you give an example?

Consider the steps required to make a baseball hat compared with a chocolate bar. Both are complex systems, no doubt, but the number of steps, complexity, and expense of equipment are much greater for the hat. An item of apparel or other manufactured product has traditionally been organized in an industry where scaling is important for success. After investing in expensive factories, it’s important to keep the machines working full time, which requires constant demand for new products.

Chocolate, on the other hand, can be grown and produced with relatively slim startup costs and maintained by a small family farmer. Cocoa beans are then sold to a company dedicated to the above Fair Trade standards, and that company makes the actual candy you buy at the store.

So, Fair Trade and Union Made will remain distinctive labels?

Yes, that’s true for the foreseeable future. Because the upcoming Fair Trade certifications for more complex supply chains do not include unions as a requirement, it appears there will be little growth of the two movements at that juncture. And on the flip side, unions have no plans to organize small farmers that are already Fair Trade producers.

Okay- then why Union Made?

With Fair Trade, the items that you are shopping for are made by workers that are treated fairly. They are paid a higher wage, have the option to unionize, and have better benefits than non-Fair Trade workers. Employees who are inside the Fair Trade system typically start at an economic disadvantage, so purchasing these items will help support them and their families.

However the availability of Fair Trade clothing is limited because there is lack of standardization and transparency in manufacturing. The best alternative is to look for Union Made labels, because these products are manufactured under the same basic principles that define Fair Trade. The main difference is that Union Made clothing is typically manufactured locally. Rather than only support workers in developing countries, this supports workers who are at an economic disadvantage in the USA and other places where legitimate unions are in place.

Union Made clothing manufacturing ensures workers are paid a fair and living wage. Unions promote non-discriminatory hiring practices and aim to provide equal opportunity regardless of age, gender, race or religion. Working conditions are monitored to ensure they comply with health and safety regulations. Furthermore, purchasing USA Union Made clothing reduces shipping distances and expands the use of locally produced organic and recycled materials. Union Made is thus fair trade and eco-friendly!

Do some investigation about the brands you like to see if they have poor labor conditions. If you want to be confident that the clothes you have are not produced in sweatshops by exploited workers, then consider buying Union Made clothing.

To learn more about Union Made T-shirts and other clothing produced under ethical conditions, you use our resources for Sweatfree, Fair Trade, Union made, USA made and environmentally friendly clothing and custom logo products.