The world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear manufacturing factory: Oliberté’s factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

SINCE DAY ONE, we have striven to work with our teams in Africa with the utmost respect. We have aspired to respect the environment and local community. We believe that every business is only as good as it treats each and every employee, no matter where in the world they are. In 2009, this meant partnering with factories we thoroughly vetted. But we soon outgrew this potential, and in 2012, we founded our own footwear manufacturing factory -- and it is here that we aim to set the precedent in fair manufacturing in sub-Saharan Africa.

But just this vow wasn’t enough for us, so as of September 20, 2013 we are proud to be the first ever footwear manufacturing factory to be Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA, and as result produce the world’s first Fair Trade Certified™ footwear.

This means that at the facility we are meeting or exceeding rigorous standards for empowerment, economic development, social responsibility, and environmental stewardship. All of this in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where we are proud to be offering equal opportunity, stable jobs to people who deserve it.

Fair Trade is an incredibly empowering model for the entire supply chain: factory workers trying to improve their lives, brands like Oliberté who want to do the right thing, and customers like you who want to make every purchase matter.

But what does being Fair Trade Certified actually involve?

We’ll be honest -- the process to become Fair Trade Certified opened our eyes to a number of things that most factories overlook, in North America and globally. We had started off on a good foot, and we’re proud to have invited Fair Trade USA on board early in the game.

To become Fair Trade Certified, our team in Ethiopia had to pass over 255 compliance factors, we had a rigorous on-site audit over two days, all with constant oversight off-site from Fair Trade USA and its certification team that lasted many months. Together, we improved our conditions even further and expanded opportunities for employees. Today, we are proud to say this includes:

  • Over double the minimum wage required in Ethiopia, including a community development premium (see next section for more details)
  • Clear handbooks and company policies for all employees. These policies include no child labor, no forced labor, no prison labor, no discrimination, freedom of movement, freedom of association, appropriate working hours, equal opportunity hiring practice, health and safety, emergency plans, and a safe work environment.
  • Fire and emergency disaster evacuation drills and plans
  • Building and equipment inspection for safety, clearly marked exits, fire extinguishers
  • Appropriately marked bathrooms and changing rooms with lockers
  • Safe and Correct Protective Equipment for all employees
  • Adequate space between machinery
  • Weekly doctor visits to check on employee health
  • Women’s equal rights and empowerment
  • 90 day maternity leave
  • Democratic and transparent decision making through a workers’ committee
  • Environmental stewardship -- we do not use specific toxic chemicals, we recycle and reuse materials when possible.

Fair Trade Certified Wages and Community Premium

Fair Trade aims to promote higher earnings for workers through a model of empowerment.

For every pair of shoes sold, all workers in the factory earn a percent of the cost, when it leaves the factory and is considered sold. This additional income is paid directly to a special workers’ account, enabling the workers to decide collectively how to spend it, based on the community’s greatest needs: from scholarships and disaster relief funds to medical care and transportation. Workers can also vote to take the Fair Trade premium dollars as a cash bonus, which is often equivalent to an entire month’s salary or more.

Why Fair Trade USA?

We looked for the most rigorous and trusted organization. And we found it. Unlike other fair trade organizations, Fair Trade USA doesn’t just take your word for it and give you a stamp of membership. They inspect, review, visit locations, inspect again, and make demands. They return regularly after approving factories and companies initially, meaning audits are a continual, constructive process on this journey going forward as well. They have globally based inspectors (ours is Ethiopian) who go on site, speak with employees and management and make sure things are done right. In addition, and as such, their logo is the most recognized in North America and globally and for that reason, we know it was the right certification for what our brand stands for today and for tomorrow.

Our aspirations

We want to share the message of how manufacturing can be done ethically and successfully, no matter where you are in the world -- and especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where it helps to build a strong middle class and local economy.

How you can help

Of course, buy our Fair Trade Certified shoes! But beyond that, help spread your support of ethical, fair trade goods. Start with a simple tweet or Facebook share (#fairtradeshoes). And if you have any further ideas, you can always reach out to us at info@oliberte.com. Thanks for your support.