Outdoor clothing company Patagonia is ramping up its Fair Trade Certified apparel offering this autumn, as well as working to enroll more of its supplier factories into the programme.

The company was one of the first major outdoor clothing companies to work with Fair Trade USA on its certified apparel, with Pratibha Syntex in India its first partner factory.

It is planning a nearly six-fold hike in clothing styles from 33 this spring to 192 for the autumn, and has already added four newly certified factories in Sri Lanka and one in Los Angeles, California to its supply base.

But it says its social/environmental responsibility team isn’t stopping here. “They’re now working with factories in Thailand, Vietnam, Colombia and Mexico, hoping soon to also enroll them in the Fair Trade programme to help more workers who make our clothing earn closer to a living wage.”

It adds: “Our factories play a key role, because attaining Fair Trade certification requires their commitment, trust and transparency.”

For every Fair Trade Certified item produced, Patagonia pays a portion of the garment cost directly into a special workers' fund. The funds are designated for social, economic and environmental development projects, but can also be taken as a cash bonus.

Patagonia has calculated that thanks to the Fair Trade programme, last year workers at Pratibha earned an additional $76,000 – equivalent to nine days wages for each worker.

“The programme’s market-based approach ensures workers not only receive fair compensation for their labour, but also helps to create better working-conditions and safeguards against the use of child labour,” it says.

Another benefit has been improved dialogue between factory management and workers. On learning that employees were considering spending some of their Fair Trade premium to build a cooking facility at Pratibha, management paid for a new kitchen themselves.

“I don’t think the factory realised this was an actual need until they had that conversation with their workers,” says Patagonia’s Thuy Nguyen, manager of social and environmental responsibility who works on the Fair Trade programme. “Dialogue is a huge part of Fair Trade.”

While Nguyen acknowledges factory managers have concerns, including what it will cost and how it will affect production, she says points out the benefits include improved worker morale, employee retention and improved productivity.

For more details on Patagonia's goal of building "the world’s most socially and environmentally responsible supply chain," click on the following link: Interview: Patagonia's CSR commitments re-shaping the sector.