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Ethical Trade: Improving the lives of vulnerable workers

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As a member of the Ethical trading Initiative (ETI), Quaker Peace & Social Witness is working to improve the lives of vulnerable workers around the world.

In recent years, consumer fuelled economic growth has seen an ever expanding choice of goods available for sale on our high streets. Retailers constantly compete to keep up with the latest trends and to supply us with all sorts of goods ranging from clothes to computers at the lowest possible price.

As consumers we benefit greatly from this situation. However this gain sometimes comes at a cost to the workers that make, process or grow the goods we buy. Many workers, particularly – but not exclusively - in developing countries have little choice but to work long hours in poor conditions. Often pay is very low. In extreme cases workers exist in situations akin to slavery.

The ETI is an alliance of companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations whose vision is a world where all workers are free from exploitation and discrimination, and work in conditions of freedom, security and equity.

To this end, ETI corporate members adopt a code of labour practice (The ETI Base Code) and commit to support their suppliers in implementing it. Based on internationally agreed labour standards, the base code states that:

  • No-one should be forced to work
  • Workers have the right to join a trade union and to bargain collectively
  • Working conditions should be safe and hygienic
  • Working hours should not be excessive
  • There should be no child labour
  • Workers should receive ‘Living wages’ i.e. enough to cover basic living expenses and have some discretionary income
  • All workers should be treated equally
  • Workers should have regular employment status wherever possible.
  • Workers should not be physically, verbally or sexually abused, disciplined or intimidated.

The complicated nature of modern supply chains means achieving this is a huge challenge. However, ETI’s tripartite membership structure (companies, trade unions and non-governmental organisations) - and the range of experience it brings – means that members collectively are able to achieve far more than any single company or organisation working alone.

Read more about Quaker work for ethical trade.

Ethical Trade: What Can I do?

Be an ‘ethical pest’

A key reason that retailers commit to implementing codes like the ETI base code is because their customers are increasingly demanding reassurance that the goods they buy have been produced ethically. You can help support this ethical consumer movement by taking part in the ETI’s ‘ethical pest’ campaign.

Stay informed

Do you know anything about how the goods you buy are made, who made them or what conditions they worked in? Keeping ourselves informed about these issues can help us make better choices as consumers. Useful sources of information include:

  • ETI’s website gives further information about ETI members and programmes.
  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) is the United Nations organisation that sets the international labour standards upon which the ETI’s work is based. Its website contains numerous publications on labour rights issues.
  • In 2009, QPSW partner The Ecumenical Council for Corporate Responsibility published a report looking at the challenges faced by vulnerable migrant workers in the UK and made recommendations on how companies should address these.
  • The Ethical Consumer magazine publishes buyers guides, company profiles and other information designed to help consumers make ethical choices when shopping.
  • The Business and Human Rights Resource Centre is updated daily with news and other reports about companies’ impacts on human rights.