Who made it? Draft standards for ethical labelling

The Harris Tweed label was tremendously successful in promoting textile crafts in the Scottish islands. There are parallel moves today in the use of geographical indications. But such labels do not include the names of those who wove the cloth. When would this be appropriate? What happens when the label is a designer brand, such as Prada? While it adds value to the product, how does it serve the longer term interests of the craftsperson?

A common issue in craft-design collaborations concerns the information that is carried with the product, particularly in the accompanying label. Brand development often seeks to minimise acknowledgement of sources in order to bolster market identity. This is sometimes at odds with the developmental aims, which are to promote the skills and culture of those involved in its production.

While most participants in craft development projects agree that the names of those craft skills contribute to the product should be included in the label, it is quite rare to find this. One reason is the absence of any standard that indicates what is a fair practice.

On 21 July, a roundtable of experts in craft, design and law met at RMIT University to develop a set of standards for ethical labelling. These standards provide the initial component of a broader code that aims to facilitate creative collaborations, particularly involving transnational partnerships.

The following draft standards are designed to provoke discussion. Their content will be considered at the mirror event in Delhi on 21 October this year.

Draft Standards for Best Practice in Labelling

  1. Labelling

    1. Consent

Information about the packaging and means of sale of the artefact should be shared between participants in product development.

    1. Attribution

All meaningful contributions to bringing an artefact into existence should receive recognition.

    1. Ingredients

The label should include relevant information about elements involved in production, such as natural materials, cultural traditions and specialist craft skills

    1. Verification

There should be a means of verifying the information on the label.

There are occasional comparisons with the film industry, where the titling convention allows for the acknowledgement of hundreds of persons involved in production, down to the boy who buys the coffee. Obviously, there are limits in the amount of information that can be included in a physical label. However, part of this discussion involves looking at expansive platforms, such as Facebook, that enable not only the transmission of more information, but also dialogue between producers and consumers.

Comments on these standards and labelling practice are welcome here.