In recent years, terms like ethical marketing, ethical fashion and fair trade have been recurring in many political and economic dialogues. However, these terms are often loosely used and they mean different things to different people.
"In my view, only those organisations and entrepreneurs can practise ethical marketing or ethical trade who are not merely stirred by short-sighted philanthropic considerations but have a genuine commitment towards improving the socio-economic conditions of the people working for them," says Marsha Dickson, professor of fashion and apparel studies at the University of Delaware, US.
According to Dickson, at the outset, organisations should clearly define the goals that they wish to achieve through the practise of ethical trade and pursue them consistently.
Ethical trade practises have an almost direct bearing on human rights. "At one level, ethical marketing/ethical trade is about providing a decent work environment that entails assuring adequate wages and abolishing child labour and any form of discrimination at work. Incidentally, these are the very things that are expressed in the International Labour Organisation's declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work and other internationally agreed upon covenants," informs Dickson.
So does ethical trade protect the interests of developing countries? "Absolutely," says Dickson. "By maintaining minimum standards related to employment that respect the rights of workers, we create a level playing field where countries are not trying to compete for economic development by abusing their workers. Further, countries have a lot to gain from fully using their workforce (not discriminating), educating their children (rather than putting them to work), making sure that their workforce does not have to pursue two or more jobs (at the same time) to survive and is not forced into extra hours of work that can have a detrimental effect in terms of the quality of the products."
Additionally, she observes that that there is a connection between ethical treatment of workers and good business. "Workers if treated well are more productive and stay with a company longer,"she says.
Talking about the role of educational institutes (imparting training in apparel design, retail and trade) in this area, Dickson says, "The issues surrounding ethical trade are multifaceted and complex. Educational institutes have to orient their students with the issues. A good way to start would be to impart knowledge on the social and environmental issues associated with apparel production and marketing. Institutes should encourage creativity in terms of fresh approaches to solving these issues and ultimately help students understand that they can progressively
resolve these issues through their business decisions."