Essential to the creation of a just and fair international trading system is Fair Trade Principle Five: Ensuring no Child or Forced Labour. This Principle guarantees that adults and children in disadvantaged areas of the world are not forced into work that pays too little or not at all. Forced labour can take many forms including trafficking, debt bondage, and the retention of identification papers or threats of exposure to immigration authorities. Fair Trade producers and businesses must ensure that there is no forced labour at any stage of the production process.
Central to Principle Five is that children are not exploited or forced to work. In order to ensure this, Fair Trade producers and businesses are required to comply with national / local laws and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
To better understand Principle Five in action let us look to the work of endorsed Fair Trader of Australia Eternal Creation, established by designer Frances Carrington. Eternal Creation has its own design and production unit in the Indian Himalayan city of Dharamsala. The business designs and manufactures clothing and accessories for adults and children and employs 70 staff from Indian, Nepalese, and Tibetan cultures and from Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and Sikh faiths.
While India is a country in which child and forced labour is prevalent due to widespread poverty, Eternal Creation strives to overcome this. Indian law states that the minimum age for work is 14, however, Eternal Creation only employs people of 18 years and over. The only occasion in which children are involved in the business is as models for clothing and accessories. Most of the child models are the children of Eternal Creation’s workers, including founder Frances Carrington’s children. These children are accompanied by their parents or guardians and are never forced to model. Eternal Creation provides financial support for its employees’ children to gain an education, paying 50% of the school fees for each child. To make the lives of its female employees easier, Eternal Creation has established an on-site creche and also offers maternity and paternity leave to its employees.
Eternal Creations works vigilantly to ensure that its producer-partners comply with the Fair Trade Principles. It takes care to ensure that its workers are happy, healthy and treated fairly by creating a work environment with a family atmosphere in which workers are in constant contact with supervisors. This closeness between supervisors and workers means that everyone is able to openly discuss and resolve any work problems they may be facing and thus an environment of freedom is engendered.
Through the examples of Eternal Creation and other Fair Trade businesses it is plain to see how Principle Five works to enable better working conditions for those most vulnerable. It is uplifting to realise that by buying Fair Trade products, we as consumers can play a part in ensuring no children or adults are forced to work for little or no pay. Every time we make a purchase we can have a positive impact on the lives of others.
Sarah Coe is an intern with the Fair Trade Association