For my American India Foundation- Banyan Impact Fellowship, I am placed with Fair Trade Forum- India. It is an Indian national network organization that works to ensure Fair Trade in the production and sale of handicraft products. The organization introduced me to the world of handicrafts, particularly the preservation of indigenous handicraft practices.
With FTF-I, I am working on a project called STREE, which stands for Social Transformation and Economic Empowerment of Women Artisans in India. It is a European Union project that aims to help revive the livelihoods of India’s marginalized women artisans.
The project allowed me to not only understand and learn about various indigenous handicrafts of India but also to see what diversity looks like in a country like India, particularly in the handicrafts sector.
What is Fair Trade?
A globally recognized definition of Fair Trade is the one put forth by the main international Fair Trade networks, WFTO, Fair Trade International, and European Fair Trade Association: “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers – especially in the South.
“Fair Trade Organizations have a clear commitment to Fair Trade as the principal core of their mission. They, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”
Fair Trade Organizations (also known as Fair Trade Enterprises) can be recognized by the WFTO Mark.
Fair Trade is more than just trading:
- It is a vision of business and trade that put people and the planet before profit
- It fights poverty, climate change, gender inequality and injustice
- It is a proof of concept that showcases the enterprise models of the new economy
Fair Trade Forum-India (FTF-I) is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization and is the National Network for Fair Trade in India. It works with more than 200,000 producers – artisans and farmers – through 100 affiliated Fair Trade member organizations. FTF-I is a not-for-profit organization, registered under the Societies Registration Act 1860. It is a Fair-Trade Network of the World Fair Trade Organization (Netherlands), which is the global face of Fair Trade. FTF-I works to ensure a dignified income and overall development of artisans, farmers and workers in the unorganized sector. FTF-I promotes environmentally friendly practices, processes and products, at both the production and consumption levels. It also works actively to improve market conditions, build capacity, and in Fair Trade assessment and development of supply chains. The promotion of Fair Trade in India includes a particular emphasis on young consumers and the corporate sector.
Fair Trade Principles are the principles that are followed by all Fair Trade Enterprises; these principles are used to advocate for a fairer way of trading and to empower artisans and craft persons associated with this movement.
1: Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
Poverty reduction through trade forms a key part of the organization’s aims. Fair Trade supports marginalized small producers, whether these are independent family businesses, or grouped in associations or co-operatives. It seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership. The organization has a plan of action to carry this out.
2: Transparency and Accountability
Organizations should be transparent in their management and commercial relations. Organizations are accountable to all its stakeholders and respects the sensitivity and confidentiality of commercial information supplied. The organization finds appropriate, participatory ways to involve employees, members and producers in its decision-making processes. It ensures that relevant information is provided to all its trading partners. The communication channels are good and open at all levels of the supply chain.
3: Fair Trading Practices
The organizations are requested to do trades with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and do not maximize profit at their expense. It is responsible and professional in meeting its commitments in a timely manner. Suppliers respect contracts and deliver products on time and to the desired quality and specifications.
Fair Trade buyers, recognizing the financial disadvantages producers and suppliers face, ensure orders are paid on receipt of documents and according to the attached guidelines. A prepayment of at least 50% is made if requested.
Where southern Fair-Trade suppliers receive a pre-payment from buyers, they ensure that this payment is passed on to the producers or farmers who make or grow their Fair-Trade products.
Organizations which produce Fair Trade products maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources in their ranges, buying locally, when possible, buyers consult with suppliers before cancelling or rejecting orders. Where orders are cancelled through no fault of producers or suppliers, adequate compensation is guaranteed for work already done. Suppliers and producers consult with buyers if there is a problem with delivery, and ensure compensation is provided when delivered quantities and qualities do not match those invoiced.
The organizations maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect that contribute to the promotion and growth of Fair Trade. It maintains effective communication with its trading partners. Parties involved in a trading relationship seek to increase the volume of the trade between them and the value and diversity of their product offer as a means of growing Fair Trade for the producers in order to increase their incomes. The organization works cooperatively with the other Fair-Trade Organizations in the country and avoids unfair competition. It avoids duplicating the designs of patterns of other organizations without permission.
Fair Trade recognizes, promotes and protects the cultural identity and traditional skills of small producers as reflected in their craft designs, food products and other related services.
4: Payment of a Fair Price
A fair price is one that has been mutually agreed upon by all through dialogue and participation, which provides fair pay to the producers and can also be sustained by the market. Where Fair Trade pricing structures exist, these are used as a minimum. Fair pay means the provision of socially acceptable remuneration (in the local context) considered by producers themselves to be fair and which takes into account the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men. Fair Trade marketing and importing organizations support capacity building as required by producers, to enable them to set a fair price.
5: Ensuring No Child Labor and Forced Labor
The organization adheres to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national/local law on the employment of children. The organization ensures that there is no forced labor in its workforce and/or members or homeworkers.
Organizations who buy Fair Trade products from producer groups either directly or through intermediaries ensure that no forced labor is used in production and the producer complies with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and national/local law on the employment of children. Any involvement of children in the production of Fair-Trade products (including learning a traditional art or craft) is always disclosed and monitored and does not adversely affect the children’s well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play.
6: Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association
The organization does not discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, termination or retirement based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/AIDS status or age. The organization provides opportunities for women and men to develop their skills and actively promotes applications from women for job vacancies and for leadership positions in the organization. The organization takes into account the special health and safety needs of pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers. Women fully participate in decisions concerning the use of benefits accruing from the production process.
The organization respects the right of all employees to form and join trade unions of their choice and to bargain collectively. Where the right to join trade unions and bargain collectively is restricted by law and/or political environment, the organization will enable means of independent and free association and bargaining for employees. The organization ensures that representatives of employees are not subject to discrimination in the workplace.
Organizations working directly with producers ensure that women are always paid for their contribution to the production process, and when women do the same work as men they are paid at the same rates as men. Organizations also seek to ensure that in production situations where women’s work is valued less highly than men’s work, women’s work is re-valued to equalize pay rates and women are allowed to undertake work according to their capacities.
7: Ensuring Good Working Conditions
The organization provides a safe and healthy working environment for employees and/or members. It complies, at a minimum, with national and local laws and International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions on health and safety.
Working hours and conditions for employees and/or members (and any homeworkers) comply with conditions established by national and local laws and ILO conventions.
Fair Trade Organizations are aware of the health and safety conditions in the producer groups they buy from. They seek, on an ongoing basis, to raise awareness of health and safety issues and improve health and safety practices in producer groups.
8: Providing Capacity Building
The organization seeks to increase positive developmental impacts for small, marginalized producers through Fair Trade.
The organization develops the skills and capabilities of its own employees or members. Organizations working directly with small producers develop specific activities to help these producers improve their management skills, production capabilities and access to markets – local/regional/international Fair Trade and mainstream as appropriate. Organizations which buy Fair Trade products through Fair Trade intermediaries in the South assist these organizations to develop their capacity to support the marginalized producer groups that they work with.
9: Promoting Fair Trade
The organization raises awareness of the aim of Fair Trade and of the need for greater justice in world trade through Fair Trade. It advocates for the objectives and activities of Fair Trade according to the scope of the organization. The organization provides its customers with information about itself, the products it markets, and the producer organizations or members that make or harvest the products. Honest advertising and marketing techniques are always used.
10: Respect for the Environment
Organizations which produce Fair Trade products maximize the use of raw materials from sustainably managed sources in their ranges, buying locally when possible. They use production technologies that seek to reduce energy consumption and where possible use renewable energy technologies that minimize greenhouse gas emissions. They seek to minimize the impact of their waste stream on the environment. Fair Trade agricultural commodity producers minimize their environmental impacts, by using organic or low pesticide use production methods wherever possible.
Buyers and importers of Fair-Trade products give priority to buying products made from raw materials that originate from sustainably managed sources and have the least overall impact on the environment.
All organizations use recycled or easily biodegradable materials for packing to the extent possible, and goods are dispatched by sea wherever possible.
Advocacy training on Fair Trade Principles for women artisans
In my Fellowship program, I work largely with marginalized and indigenous women artisans all across India. Which is a great opportunity for me to learn more about the handicrafts sector and also to understand the socio-economic and socio-cultural barriers that are already in existence for women and how these amazingly inspirational women are tackling those.
As part of my Fellowship and the work I do with my Host Organization, I have had several opportunities to advance the movement of Fair Trade and provide advocacy training on Fair Trade Principles to FTF-I member and non-member organizations. This also provided me with the opportunity to participate in a larger community engagement and to conduct a few exercises for community-building while learning about each other’s cultures.
With every training, I am astounded by the artisans’ eagerness to empower themselves and learn more about how they can engage in the movement. We also take time to understand and acknowledge the challenges that lie ahead, and then we inspire one another to take the movement forward.
When taking training at one of our member organizations, KIDS Kottapuram in Kerala, we took time after the training session to sing traditional songs and dance together, which was heart-warming. We spent a few more hours getting to know each other and sharing our life stories as the community members were so enthusiastic. They even made me promise to pay them a visit soon, which I intend to do after the completion of my Fellowship.
This training and organization visit was very special to me since it gave me the opportunity for the first time to interact with artisans from my homeland and take training in my mother tongue – Malayalam. It was just so rewarding, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to recover from the joy of happiness and satisfaction I felt while at KIDS and interacting with members of the community. Also, a special thanks and mention to Ms. Deepa John, a community Facilitator of FTF-I for the STREE project, for her efforts in making this organization visit and training session a success for me.
My experience with my host organization and its larger community has turned me into an advocate of the Fair-Trade movement, and I look forward to advancing it further in my life. I am confident that this is one of the most important lessons I will take away from this Fellowship experience: learning about a movement from scratch and eventually becoming an advocate for it!
To support the Fair-Trade movement and the artisans I took training for at KIDS, Kottapuram, Kerala, visit this website: https://naturalfibrecraft.com/
1) WFTO: World Fair Trade Organization
2) FTF-I: Fair Trade Forum- India
3) KIDS: Kottapuram Integrated Development Society
Photo Credits: –
Fair Trade Forum- India