Workers' rights campaigner Labour Behind the Label (LBL) said it cautiously welcomes retailer Monsoon's new Fairtrade range, but is urging the company to apply fair-trade principles all the way through its supply chain.

In a letter to Monsoon Accessorize, LBL said: "Retailers benefiting from the positive PR generated by involvement with Fairtrade cotton should demonstrate that their attitude to ethical trade, as well as Fairtrade, is progressive."

LBL points out that while cotton farmers will benefit from Monsoon's commitment, the Fairtrade mark does not guarantee good working conditions in the manufacturing stage of the company's clothing.

The mark does not cover the cut, make and trim (CMT) stage where so-called 'sweatshop' conditions are an ongoing issue.

Campaign coordinator Martin Hearson told just-style: "…we think that is the risk not just with Fairtrade but with other initiatives like organic. 

"While these are welcome developments for the relatively small numbers of people they are designed to benefit, we are worried that retailers may use them to deflect criticism rather than addressing the systematic problems of workers' rights abuses that still exist throughout fashion supply chains."

LBL wants Monsoon and other retailers involved with Fairtrade cotton to

1     Make more active use of the Ethical Trading Initiative (ETI)
2     Use more effective techniques to get a better idea of working
conditions in its suppliers.
3     Take a pro-active approach to freedom of association.
4     Publicly disclose the names and locations of the factories
manufacturing garments made with Fairtrade cotton.

Hearson said: "If Monsoon is serious about ethical trading, it needs to complement this with much greater efforts to ensure decent pay and conditions for the workers producing its clothes in developing countries, across all its products.

"We have heard some encouraging things from Monsoon recently, but time will tell whether they prove to be more than just words."

He told just-style LBL wants brands to place workers at the heart of social auditing, with unannounced visits, gender sensitivity, interviews with workers outside the workplace, and involving skilled local experts and civil society organisations.

"Working with trade unions and taking a pro-active approach to freedom of association is essential if workers are truly to have a voice in the process," he said.

He added that companies needed to move beyond social audits to a more comprehensive 'toolbox' approach to monitoring, verification and remediation.

"This could mean partnership with local organisations; grievance and complaints mechanisms; education and training; a pro-active approach to freedom of association; address existing business or purchasing practices; effective remediation and increased transparency," he told just-style.

By Rebecca Danton.