Canadian shoppers will be pleased to hear that Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), one of the country’s major outdoor retailers, has recently launched a line of Fair Trade Certified clothing. Women’s short- and long-sleeved cotton shirts are now available for purchase in stores and online, and men’s shirts will be available next spring.
This is a good step in the right direction for a company whose physical stores are committed to green architecture and creating a minimal footprint, but whose highly respected products are still produced exclusively overseas. Fair trade makes a lot of sense for a company that likes to be at the forefront of ethical business practices.
MEC’s clothes are certified by Fair Trade USA, which has spent the past three years developing an apparel standard certification program – a move away from the chocolate and coffee it is best known for. The partnership with Fair Trade USA guarantees independent third-party monitoring of workplace conditions in certified factories. It provides factory management with support for things such as workplace safety training. Employees are given workshops on their rights under Fair Trade standards, how to communicate with managers, and how to manage and invest the additional income they receive.
For every shirt sold, MEC will pay a cash premium into a special fund managed by the factory workers. MEC’s members will be notified as to how that fund was spent, and the workers will decide how they want to use that money, whether it’s to build up infrastructure within their community or get divided up as a personal bonus.
Tim Southam, a Public Affairs rep for MEC, defends the company’s decision to keep production overseas by explaining that Canada lacks a healthy domestic manufacturing industry that would be able to support global demand, both on the textile side and the cut-and-sew side. The fair trade factory is located in Pithampur, India, and that’s where the organic cotton is also grown and processed.
While Southam says that MEC plans to stick with just basics for now, I hope that the company eventually expands to a much broader range of products. It would be amazing if MEC eventually became the first exclusively Fair Trade outdoor retailer. As long as stores continue to import products from overseas manufacturers, where labour laws aren’t as strict, and it’s harder to enforce regulations, and people work for minimal salaries, fair trade is the best way to ensure that others aren’t suffering to produce the items we buy.
Great job, MEC, but please don’t stop here!