MONROVIA, Liberia – Founded in 2009 by social entrepreneurs Chid Liberty and Adam Butlein, Liberty & Justice is Africa’s first Fair Trade-Certified apparel manufacturer. The company operates out of two factories: the Liberian Women’s Sewing Project in Monrovia, Liberia, and the Ghanian Women’s Sewing Project in Accra, Ghana. They sell their products to large buyers in the United States, including Prana, FEED and Haggar.
Liberty & Justice’s mission, both noble and ambitious, states that the organization strives to “transform the apparel supply chain from worker exploitation and environmental degradation to partnership and sustainability.”
They accomplish this goal by defying the standards set by the global garment manufacturing industry. To start with, in creating their first factory in Liberia, Liberty and Butlein hired an expert consultant to assist in getting the factory running and quickly found out how unconventional their practices were. The consultant’s first criticism was of Liberty and Butlein’s hiring standards which solely involves women in their 30s, 40s and 50s, while garment manufacturers typically only hire women under the age of 25.
Yet instead of succumbing to the consultant’s criticism, Liberty and Butlein decided to invest in their established workforce–and their risk has shown remarkable returns.
The entrepreneur duo found that the older women they hired far exceeded their initial expectations of their employees. The women showed up early, prayed and sang before their shifts and were ardently dedicated to their work. The co-founders also noticed a rapid change in the confidence of the women since earning a stable income at the factory allowed the women to become self-sufficient, giving them greater agency and independence in their own affairs.
Liberty and Butlein opened their second factory in 2012, taking over an existing garment factory in Ghana. Here, they found similar effects on the empowerment of the women. Each employee at Liberty & Justice’s factories is paid $100 a month, 20 percent more than their peers, receive healthcare benefits and are given a bag of rice to feed their families each month. The women in the Liberia own 46 percent of their factory, while the Ghanaian women own 15 percent of their factory. These benefits allow Liberty & Justice employees a freedom they could not have without a stable source of income and support.
To remain Fair Trade-Certified, Liberty & Justice sources cotton from Fair Trade cooperatives in Mali, Burkina Faso and Senegal while also consistently meeting 92 international labor and safety standards.
Central to Liberty & Justice’s operations is their commitment to maintaining transparency and accountability. By implementing proven best practices in corporate governance, Liberty & Justice is able to embed social and environmental impact considerations into their operations. The company has been awarded the 2011 SVN Social Innovation Award and five stars by the Global Impact Investing Rating System, among other awards.
Besides its focuses on providing women with formal employment opportunities, practicing environmental stewardship and being business-minded, Liberty & Justice operates with the additional goal of contributing to Liberia’s economic recovery. Updates on Liberty & Justice’s work can be found here.
– Tara Young