Patagonia Fair Trade
by Stephen Garner
Patagonia Fair Trade
Image courtesy of Patagonia

To help improve the lives of factory workers outdoor brand Patagonia – the largest supplier of apparel made in Fair Trade Certified factories – has quickly scaled its Fair Trade program from one factory and 11 styles in fall 2014 to six factories and 218 styles in fall 2016.

Since 2014, Patagonia has paid $639,000 in premiums that go directly to the workers making its apparel. By fall 2017, Patagonia expects to manufacture 300 styles – approximately one-third of its products – in Fair Trade Certified factories. Patagonia is one of more than 1,000 companies representing 30 product categories that sell Fair Trade Certified products.

Patagonia’s supply chain alone involves nearly 75 factories and more than 100,000 workers worldwide. As a complement to Patagonia’s own robust factory monitoring program, the company has partnered with Fair Trade USA, an organization that has developed a well-established program for ensuring products are made in factories and farms where workers are safe, treated with respect and paid fair compensation for their labor. The premise is simple: for every product made by a Fair Trade Certified factory, companies such as Patagonia choose to pay an additional premium that workers can use to elevate their standard of living and bridge the gap between a minimum wage and a living wage. A worker-elected committee votes on how to spend the money – either as a cash bonus or to pay for social, economic and environmental community projects.

“We live in the age of globalization and factory workers around the world are going to be plugged into the global market in one way or another, and so for me, the question is, are they victims of the global market, or are they being included in the benefits of globalization,” said Paul Rice, president and CEO of Fair Trade USA. “We have to prove the business case for responsible business. If it’s just a philanthropic endeavor…it won’t scale. We have to prove that Fair Trade is good for business.”

In Patagonia’s mission to use business to do good and lead the way for transparency in the outdoor industry, it is making it easier for other apparel companies to make products in Fair Trade Certified factories. Once a factory is certified, any other company that wants to make Fair Trade products in that factory simply has to pay the additional Fair Trade premium.

“Fair Trade USA’s approach has proven it contributes to a better standard of living, including pay and employee participation in the workplace and community. It also helps create better working-conditions and safeguards against the use of child labor,” added Rose Marcario, president and CEO of Patagonia. “One last benefit falls not to the workers, the factory or Patagonia as a brand, but to the customer who buys a Fair Trade Certified garment: every purchase is a vote, with the pocketbook, for good values, an all too rare opportunity in our global economy.”

To learn more about Patagonia’s Fair Trade program click here.