Why Fair Trade Makes a Difference

Adrianne Gilbride is the Senior Environmental and Social Supply Chain Manager at Arc’teryx. She spent the first weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic sleeplessly gathering a mountain of data from across the company to understand what was happening for the garment workers in the 21 manufacturing facilities across 10 countries who produce our range of products. The pandemic was wreaking havoc everywhere, and garment workers were taking some of the biggest hits. 

One result of that inquiry is that, ten months later, we are able to offer more than 80 Arc’teryx products, over 20% of our line, as Fair Trade Certified. And we’re moving toward our goal of having 80% of our line Fair Trade Certified by 2025. 

Adrianne takes us on a dive into why it’s time to choose fair, and how we can all be part of the change to ensure garment workers, 75% of whom are women working to support their families, live better lives. 

We depend on a lot of highly skilled people to make our garments. It can require 67 different operators to perform the 190 steps that craft a single Alpha SV jacket. Across 10 countries, we rely on the skills of close to 7,000 people. They should be able to depend on us to advocate for and advance their labour and life conditions. There is a crisis of inequity in the apparel industry and we need to redistribute benefit.  

Why did it take COVID-19 for Arc’teryx to make a fair trade commitment?  

Worker well-being was always a consideration, but it was one of many factors competing for attention. When COVID-19 began shuttering factories, collapsing supply chains, and laying off thousands of garment workers around the world, it served as an accelerant for us to really dig deeper into worker protections and what we were doing to honour the skilled craftspeople who make our products. That invitation to rethink business-as-usual let us look at our systems, and direct attention to the entire supply chain. It was an opportunity to be the change we want to see, but also to confront how clearly interconnected and interdependent we are.  

We came out of this with a firm commitment, to ensure that by 2025, 80% of Arc’teryx products will be Fair Trade Certified. 

Why fair trade certification? 

34% of garment factory workers around the world have gone hungry at least once a week since the pandemic.

Fair trade is one of the leading existing mechanisms to improve the livelihoods of finished good manufacturing workers. And it’s one of very few, if not the only tool where you’re able to place additional funds directly in the hands of workers.  

We observed throughout the pandemic, and still are seeing this effect, that garment workers in a fair trade system fared better than those who weren’t. 

Our hope is that fair trade certification will quickly become a new minimum adopted by the entire apparel industry. We want to advocate for this as a baseline, and then begin to further address the systemic inequity in the countries where the most garment workers are.   

What is fair trade certification?  

Fair Trade Certified is a third party certification from Fair Trade USA designed to support better working conditions, improve livelihoods and protect the environment.  

It started with a focus on responsible sourcing of coffee and chocolate, and moved into apparel ten years ago. For Arc’teryx, certifying our product with the Fair Trade Certified seal is one way we can support the workers whose skill we rely on. The premium money we contribute goes directly to the workers and they choose how to spend it.  

Since starting in May 2021, workers at Santa Clara have accumulated $50,000 in premiums and decided to use their first premium project to provide small cash gifts to all employees & start a long-term emergency fund to support disadvantaged workers that may need assistance – over $25K was deposited in a high yield bank account to earn interest while it waits to be deployed to workers in need.  

How does the fair trade process work?  

For an Arc’teryx product to be Fair Trade Certified, it must be made in a factory that is certified under the Fair Trade Factory Standard, set by Fair Trade USA. For each garment made in the facility, Arc’teryx then contributes an additional financial premium on top of the price of the product. This premium goes directly into a worker-managed bank account.  

Before certification, Fair Trade USA completes a comprehensive assessment of the facility’s working conditions and supports the workers to establish a democratically-elected Fair Trade Worker Committee to advocate for themselves and decide how to spend the Community Development Fund.  

 Where to from here?  

As of Fall/Winter 2021, three manufacturing partners in Vietnam, Mensa Industries Company Ltd, Youngone Nam Dinh Co Ltd., and Charming Santa Clara Co. Ltd, are now Fair Trade Certified.  

We started with our suppliers in Vietnam where we could make the most significant-sized impact immediately. Our worker well-being roadmap sets out the next factories we will nominate to go through the certification process. We want to do a country-wide sweep of Vietnam, and get into Bangladesh and Indonesia as soon as possible.  

Once factories are Fair Trade Certified, other brands that work with them can also opt in and pay the worker premium, and the collective power of us all supporting the workers of a single factory, really adds up exponentially to provide much more tangible benefits to the workers. In some ways, it’s about shifting the tide, so we’re all oriented towards lifting up the workers. 

“We’re not doing enough. Or moving fast enough. And the impacts from COVID-19 are not yet over. But you can help accelerate the change.” 

Can we move any faster?  

We need to. As an industry, we’re still not doing enough, and we’re still not moving fast enough. COVID-19 has just revealed something that already existed. And while things might be getting back to normal for us, things are not easing up in Asia, where the workers are.  

Supply chains are opaque, globalization is complex, and getting consumers informed and impassioned enough to advocate and pressure brands to shift their practices, requires heavy lifting on everyone’s part. Fair trade is one system that exists, to make positive change more accessible.  

We consider this to be one small step among the many that are needed to remake apparel supply chains, and make sure workers earn a living wage.   

To move faster, we have to move together. It’s a collaborative play. We are sponsoring other manufacturing facilities through the certification process. We can work with other brands to certify factories, or to take advantage of the fact when a factory is certified. A lot of things are converging to develop an industry-wide methodology for a living wage, which is going to provide a lot more protection for workers.  

And the more our guests choose fair, get on board, and demand more transparency and care from brands and governments and policy-makers and regulators, the more impact we can have. The more of us who are on board, the better.  

Shop Men’s Fair Trade Collection

Shop Women’s Fair Trade Collection