by Vanitha Sivarajan, MarketPlace Junior Board Member, 2010
When I was younger and in grade school and high school, I remember thinking that the holidays, birthdays, back-to-school, etc. always meant new “things” that I would get so excited for—winter accessories, clothes, shoes, or bags from the local mall or department stores. When at a birthday party or the first day of school armed in my new outfit, sometimes a classmate or friend of mine would have the same sweater or the same shoes I wore, perhaps in a different color. This would have me feeling a bit deflated at the concept that someone else had the new item that I thought I was the only one to have bought! What else would I expect though, from an item that came from a factory that was mass-produced?
As I got older and began traveling for pleasure and for work, I began to see beautiful colors, textures, and patterns woven into different materials that were handmade by artisans. It made me feel good to pay that person right then and there, knowing that she/he was being compensated directly for their work. These were definitely not items that could be replicable in mass production! I wondered how to bring such beautiful items handmade by artisans from developing countries to the U.S. market? And how do we know that the artisan received a fair price and that it did not come from a sweatshop?
Luckily, in this day and age, we don’t have to travel far and wide anymore to buy a unique handmade item directly from the artisan, and we don’t have to settle on the same mass produced sweater at the mall where we may not know the story behind how it was made. The answer lies in “Fair Trade,” such as the products sold through the artisans of the MarketPlace: Handwork of India.
What exactly is Fair Trade? According to Fair Trade USA, the following are Fair Trade principles:
- Fair price: Democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum floor price and an additional premium for certified organic products. Farmer organizations are also eligible for pre-harvest credit.
- Fair labor conditions: Workers on Fair Trade farms enjoy freedom of association, safe working conditions, and living wages. Forced child labor is strictly prohibited.
- Direct trade: With Fair Trade, importers purchase from Fair Trade producer groups as directly as possible, eliminating unnecessary middlemen and empowering farmers to develop the business capacity necessary to compete in the global marketplace.
- Democratic and transparent organizations: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers decide democratically how to invest Fair Trade revenues.
- Community development: Fair Trade farmers and farm workers invest Fair Trade premiums in social and business development projects like scholarship programs, quality improvement trainings, and organic certification.
- Environmental sustainability: Harmful agrochemicals and GMOs are strictly prohibited in favor of environmentally sustainable farming methods that protect farmers’ health and preserve valuable ecosystems for future generations.
In other words, producers such as farmers and artisans of items such as handicrafts, tea, honey, cotton, wine, chocolate, gold, sugar, etc are being paid fair wages, given fair working hours, and are asked to work in suitable working conditions using environmentally and sustainable friendly practices.
When you purchase a MarketPlace item, you are guaranteed that it is a Fair Trade item. Pushpika Freitas, the Executive Director of MarketPlace, has been working with artisans in India for almost 30 years. The products that you see in the catalog and online are driven by their needs and abilities. The women are treated as an equal partner; they are paid fair wages, organized into collectives, trained and empowered on basic business skills, and are given free reign on where they can work. For example, the women work from home in order to combine their work with daily household chores. The artisans are integrated into every part of the daily operations, such as planning, production, management, and quality control. With their business skills, the artisans can apply them to other problems that may afflict their communities such as using street theater to raise awareness about domestic violence and demanding clean water and better health care facilities.
I know that when I make a MarketPlace: Handwork of India purchase, I am guaranteed that I am purchasing a fair trade item that respects the artisan who handmade my scarf, blouse, jacket, or home accessory item. Gone are the days when my only option was to visit a department store that had the same mass-produced item with no idea where it came from. I can feel good about my purchase and know that there is a story of empowerment and pride that came behind it when I purchase a Marketplace Handwork of India item!