A fair shop
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Date: 23 March, 2004


 
'In joining, corporations undertake to work with their suppliers to improve standards.'

Steve Tomkins looks into the ETI. Not the mythical resident of the Himalayas, but the Ethical Trading Initiative

So, fair trade is ten years old, getting bigger, better and more talked about all the time.

As you fill your supermarket trolley up with coffee, juice, biscuits, chocolate and anything else you'll be able to eat again at the end of Lent, it's reassuring to know that the people at the tough end of your shopping are getting a decent deal, and that you're doing something to make life fairer for the world's workers.

It's just a shame that economic injustice isn't confined to the world of food and drink. It's one thing buying fair trade in the supermarket, but how do I know whether my bank card is on the side of the angels when I'm buying jeans, make up, shoes, CDs, plates, baby clothes etc?

One answer is the Ethical Trading Initiative, known to its friends and
family as ETI.

Coalition

ETI is an coalition of trading companies (plus trade unions and NGOs like Christian Aid) committed to fair payment and conditions for their own workers and those employed by their suppliers. In joining, corporations undertake to work together and with their suppliers to improve standards.

Member companies include both shops and brands. The clothes shops which have signed up include Next, New Look and Monsoon, along with the department stores Debenhams and Marks and Spencer.

Levi Strauss are also members which may make your 501s more comfortable in future. WH Smiths and Boots both belong, as do the BBC and the Body Shop.

Supermarket members include ASDA, Co-op, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco, and (again) Marks and Sparks. (Was it just my mum who called it that or everybody's? Write in to the usual address.) Many less well-known wholesalers also belong.

What does it mean? What does membership of ETI tell you about the people you're buying your pants from?

To start with what it doesn't tell you. It's not like our old friend the
Fairtrade logo, which guarantees a better-than-going-rate for all farm
workers involved.

Demands

It doesn't make the same rigorous demands of members that the Fair Trade Foundation make. Not all suppliers are expected to reach the same standards in pay and working conditions, so Nescafé will continue to sit alongside Café Direct in some supermarket shelves.

And it is a voluntary commitment to improve standards, it's not a guarantee that they have already been met. As the ethical section of Marks and Spencer's website puts it: "Ethical Trading Initiative - our aspirational standard". It's about helping members to reach a satisfactory level, rather than certifying that they have done.

But it is not just PR puff for corporations who want to tell shoppers "We believe in fair standards in an abstract kind of way". The fact that a company belongs to the ETI tells you that it has made a commitment to certain rules and adopted what the ETI calls its "Base Code". It tells you that their compliance is independently monitored, that they report on their progress annually, and that if they fail to make satisfactory advance they're out on their ear.

The ETI Base Code is a set of nine rules about minimum standards of human rights in trading companies and their suppliers. Firstly, it prohibits all forced labour, such as involuntary prison labour. Secondly, at every level of production workers must be allowed to join unions, without being penalised for it.

Thirdly, the code requires that all working environments are safe and
healthy, with the risks of injury or infection minimised and drinkable
water, clean toilets etc. provided. Fourthly, all child labour (i.e. less
than 15 years old) is prohibited, and where it has been going on companies have to arrange for the child to go into quality education.

Fifthly, all workers must receive a living wage - at least the national or
industrial minimum wage, with no disciplinary deductions allowed - and comprehensible written contracts. Their hours must also, sixthly, be under the national or industrial maximum, and definitely no more than 48 hours a week. They must have one day off a week and not forced into overtime.

Discrimination

Seventhly, the ETI prohibits discrimination on the grounds of race, religion or any of the other usual suspects. Eighthly, employers cannot be allowed to circumvent employment laws through sub-contracting etc. And lastly, no kind of abuse can be tolerated.

So while the Fairtrade logo offers a high level of economic justice on a relatively small range of products, ETI is aiming at more modest increases of justice across a far wider range. Shopping with ETI members is another welcome way of putting your bank card to work for the benefit the world's workers.

And if you want to give up something else for the rest of Lent, why not boycott those shops which aren't in the ETI scheme, and tell their managing directors why you wont shop there?

Visit the ETI website here






   
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