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Date: 23 March, 2004
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
family as ETI.
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
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
Fairtrade logo, which guarantees a better-than-going-rate for all
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
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
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
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
healthy, with the risks of injury or infection minimised and drinkable
water, clean toilets etc. provided. Fourthly, all child labour (i.e.
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.
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
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
the ETI website here