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Supply Chain
Jones Snowboards Earns Industry-First Fair Trade Certification

The certification signifies attention to worker empowerment, fair wages and more; but whether it will galvanize competitors and partners to make such a commitment remains to be seen.

Ethical snowboard, winter apparel and backcountry gear brand Jones Snowboards recently announced that beginning this year, its snowboards and splitboards would be Fair Trade Certified — marking something of a milestone for a certification largely used by apparel and food manufacturers.

For hard goods, Fair Trade certification primarily focuses on factory standards and worker empowerment — ensuring that those making the products are treated fairly, equitably and paid a living wage.

As founder Jeremy Jones said in a statement: “Our boards are known for their performance and responsible manufacturing standards, but what is not as well known is that we hold all our factory partners to the highest social responsibility standards. Achieving Fair Trade Certification honors our longstanding commitment to the people who manufacture our products.”

This isn’t Jones’ first foray into more thoughtful manufacturing: The company runs both its manufacturing operations and its Truckee, California headquarters on 100 percent solar energy; uses sustainable materials throughout its product portfolio; completed a lifecycle assessment on its boards in 2020; and is now upcycling old snowboards into new through its Re-Up Tech program.

For the Fair Trade Certification process, Jones and its factory partner, SWS (both owned by Switzerland-based Nidecker Group), had to meet standards in seven specific areas: empowerment, fundamental rights at work, conditions of employment for workers, occupational health and safety, environmental responsibility, management transparency and traceability, and internal management systems.

The certification applies directly to SWS’ factory in Dubai where it produces snowboards, along with hard goods for a few other brands. According to Fair Trade USA, the process took 6-9 months through a good chunk of 2023 — which is relatively fast, according to the organization.

“We felt there was an appetite (for certification) for hard-goods factories, and were excited that Jones and SWS were eager to enter into this,” Fair Trade senior brand partnership development manager Lauren Tolbert told Sustainable Brands® (SB).

For every purchase of a Fair Trade Certified Jones product, a portion of the proceeds goes to a Community Development Fund to support factory employees' most pressing community needs — including education, child care and healthcare. SWS installed an employee-elected Fair Trade Committee that will manage the Community Development Fund and vote on how the funds are used.

"SWS has been an audited member of Sedex — one of the world’s leading ethical-trade membership organizations for businesses committed to the continuous improvement of ethical performance within their supply chains — for many years; however, this organization is not recognized by consumers," SWS Board Technology Sustainability Officer Renske Visser told SB. "We were, therefore, looking for an accredited certification that would be respected and valued by the end-user of our manufactured products — and Fair Trade USA matched this requirement."

However meaningful the achievement, it seems the industry appetite may have been overestimated — at least on the brand side.

“We’re super happy to see Jones do that; but paying for Fair Trade certification would be somewhat redundant to what the EU already requires,” Fischer Sports content marketing manager Jonathan Jay told SB.

“It remains to be seen if this will move the needle,” adds Andrew Couperthwait, VP of Head USA’s alpine division — who notes that for now, this is more of an incentive for the retailer than the consumer; and he’s not sure how much the alpine consumer will care for now.

Which isn’t to say the winter-sports industry isn’t putting sustainability front and center in other ways: For example, Burton — the industry’s largest snowboard brand, which declined to comment for this story — recently renewed its B Corp certification. Brands such as Rossignol are releasing recycled skis; Outdoor Industry Association brands are working to decarbonize their textile factories; and resorts such as Vail are also shifting to 100 percent renewable energy.

But these efforts focus firmly on the environmental aspect of sustainability; and that raises the question of whether attention to the social aspect is likely to rise to meet it — and whether it can, due to the sheer number of audit and compliance mechanisms already keeping the industry’s environmental impacts in check. So, it will remain to be seen if other hard-goods companies will widen their focus to embrace certifications such as Fair Trade, versus continuing to focus their efforts on protecting the outdoor environments where their products are used.

Either way, the achievement is a good next step for an industry that’s heavily reliant on both social and environmental health. What Jones’ achievement does do is open up a conversation and a new pathway — especially for smaller brands that could benefit from the boost of an association with Fair Trade Certified.

Jones’ Fair Trade Certified 2024/25 snowboards and splitboards will be available for sale in August 2024.

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