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Econscious GOTS Report Establishes Much, But Not Fair Labor Conditions

For a month now, I’ve been evaluating the claim by CafePress that the Econscious brand t-shirts it sells are made produced by “sustainable organizations” in accordance with “fair trade practices.” In particular, I’m looking at production in one of the factories supplying shirts to Econscious — a factory in Lahore, Pakistan. Econscious executives have proclaimed that “Econscious can prove fair labor practices in their factories verifed by 3rd party inspectors. I suggest you remove your article until econscious is given the opportunity to respond.”

Econscious President Dale Denkensohn has been unfailingly polite to me and has sent on a variety of documents. Some of these are not relevant — for instance “fair trade” certification of the growing conditions for some seed cotton that another Econscious factory in another country buys. But some are relevant: three weeks ago, I was sent on two audit documents regarding the factory in Lahore, Pakistan. They are:

1. An STR Audit report for the winter of 2007-2008
2. Reports of pay of factory workers (unverified by the STR auditor) for the winter of 2007-2008

At the end of last week, Denkensohn sent me an additional document:

3. A GOTS audit report for the summer of 2008

I encourage you to read all three documents closely, paying attention to the scope of inspection (GOTS especially is focused on certifying the organic nature of the supply chain and does so in detail), on what the reports indicate about workers compensation (STR audit: minimum wage; GOTS audit: minimum wage plus small unspecified bonuses), and on what basis the audits’ conclusions are drawn (the factory’s official wage book, without worker interviews or other independent verification of worker compensation indicated). It is no wonder that the factory has not attained FLO certification, since that would require movement from minimum wage to a living wage that meets “basic needs” as discussed in other articles here.

The GOTS audit in particular glosses over the difference between a “minimum wage” and a “living wage,” simply declaring that factory workers “meet the Labour laws for industrial workers which according to the government are sufficient to meet basic needs.” Despite a rigorous search for any declaration by the government of Pakistan that the minimum legal wage for workers is sufficient to meet basic needs, I cannot find any. Please let me know if you can find such a reference. What I have found is an internal document by Pakistan’s Federal Bureau of Revenue stating of their own government workers:

As in the rest of the government, the management of human resources is severely deficient. Most of the tax officials are not paid a living wage and none is paid a middle class wage.

Look at the government pay scale and you’ll see that a large majority of pay grades (adding on a monthly government allowances of 500 rupees for medical care and a transportation allowance of 680-2480 rupees) have earnings at or above the 6000 rupee/month minimum wage currently in force. It looks to me like the government of Pakistan has concluded that this level of compensation is not a living wage.

This indication and other indications of a less-than-living wage leaves me personally disinclined to sell Econscious shirts until Econscious more affirmatively and specifically demonstrates the living standard of its workers. If your read of available information tells you something different, make your case and I’ll be sure to pay attention.

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