Author: Jeffrey Hollender, Co-founder, Sustain
Words like “Fair Trade,” “Non-GMO,” “sustainable” and “vegan” may sound like a bunch of fancy first world buzzwords…especially when they’re used in the context of, well, condoms. But not only are Sustain condoms the real deal (we also donate 10% of pre-tax profits to select women’s organizations), our company takes each of those qualifications to heart. So, in anticipation of World Fair Trade Day – coming up on May 9 -- we sat down with founder Jeffrey Hollender to talk about the Fair Trade movement, why it’s important and what’s next:
Let's start with the basics: What does a “Fair Trade" condom mean?
Fair trade condoms contribute to an improvement in the working and living conditions of the people who produce the condom’s natural latex and ensure there are no children working on the plantation. We’re applying the Fair Trade principles like fair wages, improving living standards and working conditions, providing health care and education for all workers and their families. Fair Trade essentially means paying the full value of the latex we source and improving the lives of those in our supply chain. We pay a 25% premium for all the latex we purchase to cover the costs associated with these programs and standards.
Why is creating a Fair Trade product important?
When people think Fair Trade products, they typically think of chocolate, coffee and handmade products from countries in Africa. They don’t usually think of rubber as being a product that would benefit from fair trade principles mentioned above. However, the rubber industry has a pretty sordid past in terms of working conditions.
The UN Mission in Liberia noted that rubber plantations “do not meet international or national standards for the protection of workers from hazardous materials and do not ensure that safety standards are in place in the production of rubber.” The report goes on to observe a “lack of safety equipment and training for tappers using caustic acids in the extraction of rubber, and for staff working in the processing plants.” Laborers also often live in deplorable conditions, with inadequate space, lighting and ventilation, and other health risks. And even today, child labor exists at almost every rubber plantation in the world.
We want to shed light on these types of conditions; that’s why we’re working with a plantation in India that prohibits child labor, and it’s also why we decided to become Fair Trade certified.
Can you tell us a little bit about the history of the Fair Trade movement and where you think it is headed?
In response to the deplorable working conditions on rubber plantations, the Fair Rubber Association was founded pretty recently. Sustain is actually a founding member. This is an independent organization comprised of companies in the rubber industry who have committed to pay a Fair Trade Premium to rubber producers in the country in which we operate. For example, we pay a premium to our rubber plantation in India, and this premium goes toward better housing and education, access to electricity, clean drinking water and health care for plantation workers.
Dr. Martin Kunz is the founder of Fair Rubber and has over 30 years of fair trade experience. Martin was the co-founder and first general secretary of TransFair International (TFI) and later the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (FLO), the worlds largest Fair Trade certifying organization.
Are there any other companies or industries that have impressed you with their commitment to Fair Trade? Surprised you?
There are lots of food companies, Equal Exchange coffee and chocolate is our favorite. Outside the food world, Naturepedic, one of the world’s biggest mattress producers and users of rubber, has received their Fair Rubber certification. We’re seeing bigger companies gain interest in the movement, which is great for the type of industry-wide change we’re hoping to have.
Are there any companies/industries you'd like to see take it more seriously?
I’d love to see Firestone tires take their commitment to social good more seriously by joining the Fair Rubber Association. A documentary on PBS recently called out Firestone on their history of appalling working conditions; I highly recommend checking it out. It’d be great to see a key player in the rubber industry like Firestone change the way they treat the workers in their supply chain.
As a condom brand, we’re also working to influence other condom brands like Trojan and Durex to sign on to Fair Trade principles. Sustain is currently the only condom brand sold in the US that is Fair Trade certified. And if we can do it, and we’re a small player, why can’t they? That would be a game–changer for the condom industry, and rubber industry as a whole.