© Pavi Siva

17.01.2022

‘Our commitment to fair wages is long term’

The clothing manufacturer Brands Fashion has worked together with GIZ in India to implement the latest standards for fair supply chains. In this interview, Rabea Schafrick, Head of Sustainability, talks about the experiences.

Brands Fashion produces corporate workwear and is the first company in the world to have certified a full supply chain in accordance with the latest Fairtrade Textile Standard.

This requires the company to fulfil exacting criteria in all areas of the production process, from fibre production and spinning mills to garment assembly. Brands Fashion received support in this venture from the develoPPP programme, under which the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH works on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to promote private sector business ideas in developing countries and emerging economies that are of long-term benefit to local people. In this interview, Rabea Schafrick, Head of Sustainability at Brands Fashion, talks about the different stages involved in the pilot project in India in moving towards a fair supply chain, and the obstacles that needed to be overcome.

Rabea Schafrick_kurz

Ms Schafrick, what makes the new certification so special? Why has Brands Fashion worked so hard to obtain it?

Until now, the approach adopted by Fairtrade with regard to textiles has focused primarily on conditions in cotton production. So it's about whether cultivation meets organic standards and whether farmers are paid a minimum price for their cotton. However, the supply chains go much further. The conditions for textile workers in factories are just as relevant. Besides occupational health and safety, fair pay is a key topic here. Together with Fairtrade, we have focused on the issue of living wages. These go beyond statutory minimum wages and cover further basic needs of the workers and their families. Such needs include, for example, the costs for health care, education or transport. The term ‘living wage’ was defined by Fairtrade. We have made a commitment to adjust the level of pay accordingly and pay living wages for around 1,000 textile workers in India.

That sounds like a longer-term process. What was it like for you to implement this change? What challenges did you face?

It took four years of project work to achieve market launch in October 2021 for the first garments that had been produced in a supply chain in which all of the operators had gained certification. And in some areas we’ve broken new ground: in spinning mills and dyeworks, for instance, the Fairtrade audits have established and verified new standards. And cooperation with the factories was not always straightforward given the difficulty involved in pushing through higher wages for workers as just one of many corporate customers. Our efforts were proof that our commitment to fair wages is for the long term: the certified standards that are now in place provide a basis which we will implement and continue to improve over the next six years. 

Why did you work with public partners on the project?

Without the financial support of GIZ and develoPPP, we would not have been able to carry out the project. We are very happy that Fairtrade suggested GIZ as a partner for the project from the outset. The partnership has proved fruitful for us as we are now also working together with GIZ and develoPPP on a cotton production project in India. The benefits of this collaboration are clear: we have a partner who is familiar with the conditions on the ground and who is helping us to find suitable solutions.

How is your new certified clothing being received in practice?

The response has been very positive. The first customer for the new products was the German football club VfB Stuttgart, for whom we have manufactured fan merchandise using the certified supply chain. Other customers have contacted us and also shown interest in the new certification. We can see that the issue is relevant to companies and our aim now is to certify more textile supply chains.