“Fair Trade” is usually associated with the supervised trade of natural products like coffee or bananas. Under these terms, the producers receive a fixed minimum price from the Fairtrade organization, ensuring them a reliable income even in the face of low market prices. Extra premiums are also paid to promote and finance social projects. But in general this rule only applies for farmers and plantation workers. So how does it work for manufacturing operations? Do workers in the sewing workshops where Fairtrade cotton is processed also have comparable assurances and premium systems? In terms of working conditions and compliance with prescribed minimum wages, the answer is yes. But there is not yet a premium system in every segment. It is precisely this issue that Ethletic has taken up as a champion for the social concerns of production workers.




The Ethletic Manufacturing Welfare Society

A minimum wage and workplace safety are the foundation, but we want to go much further than that. We also want the employees in our production facilities to be able to have a positive relation with their customers from the “West”, which is often viewed with skepticism. We achieve this goal by giving the workers a voice in their workplaces and by promoting their own community projects with premiums.

It is important for us that the employees can freely choose the important purposes they want to use the funds for.

To be specific, Ethletic pays two invoices for the orders it places with manufacturers: The production company submits one normal invoice to Ethletic for the goods to be delivered, while the employee Welfare Society submits an additional invoice to Ethletic totaling 15 percent of the value of the ordered goods. In short, for an order with a goods value of 100,000 Euros Ethletic pays 115,000 Euros; 100,000 Euros to the supplier and 15,000 Euros for the community projects. We do this voluntarily. We’re not “required” to make these additional payments for any of our certification seals.

The employees are represented by an elected Joint Body who uses the premiums for social enterprises. At present, these funds are being used to finance health insurance policies, doctor visits, hospital stays, school materials for children and clean drinking water facilities. It is important for us that the employees can freely choose the important purposes they want to use the funds for.

Who exactly are the people in the factory?
Ideally we would love to bring all of our customers to our production facilities so they could get to know our employees. We’re aware that from a distance in all the pictures and videos that we regularly post it all looks so different and foreign, like another world. But meanwhile, when we’re working with our colleagues in their workplaces, it all feels like home.
We develop visions for the future together and work in teams to make them a reality. The mutual enthusiasm and sharing of both our successes and failures quickly wipes out any notion of the nationality, religion and gender of our team members. We would like to share this feeling of belonging with many people back “here”.

Die Karma Chakhs werden im Familienbetrieb Talon Sports gefertigt. (c) 2013 Kathrin Harms


We want to get to know the people who make our products. Only when we know them, and they know us, can we work together on our visions and convey the knowledge advantage that we have in the fields of the social market economy, technology, environmental protection and workplace safety to one another on equal footing. We show our employees that we’re on their side. But we also emphasize that we have to work hard together to meet our customers’ high expectations. This can be a strenuous process for both sides, given that it can take time to develop an understanding of the concerns of the other side. But we have complete faith in this approach, and what we have achieved up to now convinces us that we’re moving in the right direction with our interpretation of Fair Trade. And we’re going to stick with it.


What’s behind the certificates?

The certificates and seals from many organizations now serve as a guarantee for proper production conditions in production facilities. While this is a very positive development, we are still convinced that the focus should not be limited to working conditions, but should also include addressing how to improve the social living conditions of the employees. This is why Ethletic already founded the “Workers Welfare Society” years ago.
In addition to the commitment of our own organization, our operations are certified in accordance with BSCI, FLO, GOTS and FSC.


Many consumers are unaware that every seal also means considerable bureaucratic responsibilities (for things such as audits) and financial expense (for membership fees) for the participating businesses. This can keep many motivated businesses out of the system that lack the necessary financial means to meet the costs of certification by the corresponding organizations.
At Ethletic, we would welcome the introduction of globally uniform standards in order to minimize the costs of holding several different seals. The number of people around the world benefitting from minimum social standards would increase significantly with the introduction of a uniform seal for ethically and sustainably run production facilities.


The demand for these kinds of standards can only come from us, the consumers. It is our responsibility not to become complacent in our focus and insistence on trade that is fair and ethical.