We grew our offering of Fair Trade Certified™ products this year from 33 in spring 2015 to 192 in fall. They’re sewn by workers at Pratibha Syntex in India, which was our first Fair Trade partner factory, and at four newly certified factories in Sri Lanka and one in Los Angeles, California.

Thanks to the Fair Trade program, last year workers at Pratibha earned an additional $76,000 just from us. (That's equivalent to nine days wages for each worker.) They used the money to buy raincoats for the monsoon season and are exploring some other projects to spend the rest of the funds on this year.

For every Fair Trade Certified item we buy, Patagonia pays a premium. The money goes into an account the workers control. The funds are designated for social, economic and environmental development projects, but can also be taken as a cash bonus, which can get workers closer to a living wage. The living wage is calculated as part of the Fair Trade certification process, and it is our first step towards addressing low wages in the supply chain.

Fair Trade is one of several initiatives we’re taking at Patagonia to improve the lives of people who make our products. The program’s market-based approach ensures workers not only receive fair compensation for their labor, but also helps to create better working-conditions and safeguards against the use of child labor.

Dialogue is another important aspect of Fair Trade. At Pratibha this year, factory management learned from Fair Trade committee members that employees were considering spending some of their Fair Trade premium to build a cooking facility. Upon learning this was a need for their workforce, management paid for a new kitchen themselves. The workers were delighted and now have the opportunity to cook their favorite meals in a safe and modern space.

“I don’t think the factory realized this was an actual need until they had that conversation with their workers,” said Patagonia’s Thuy Nguyen, manager of social and environmental responsibility who works on the Fair Trade program. “Dialogue is a huge part of Fair Trade.”

Our social/environmental responsibility team isn’t stopping at 192 products. They’re now working with factories in Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico, hoping soon to also enroll them in the Fair Trade program to help more workers who make our clothing earn closer to a living wage. The factories play a key role, because attaining Fair Trade certification requires their commitment, trust and transparency.

As with any new program, there are questions and concerns. Factory managers want to know how workers will react, what it will cost and how it will affect production. Thuy acknowledges these are real concerns. But she’s confident the benefits of improving worker morale, encouraging the retention of employees and improving productivity will win the day.

After two years as a Fair Trade Certified factory, Pratibha is still enthusiastic about the program, as evidenced by this message from Vijay Kumar Mennon, Pratibha’s head compliance management representative.

“We wish to place on record our profound and heartfelt thanks to the Fair Trade officials and Patagonia team members for their inspiring efforts, which will bring smiles on the faces of the associates who are looking for better work conditions and to promote sustainability as well as higher social and environmental standards,” he wrote.

As one of 800 brands that offer Fair Trade Certified products, the program has proved highly successful for us at Patagonia. We look forward to offering even more Fair Trade items for the benefit of more workers.

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