This quote popped up on one of our Facebook pages last week, and it really got us thinking. It’s easy to tell people that we’re a Fair Trade company, or that we produce lifestyle products with artisans in Thailand and Nepal.
But it’s harder for people to see beyond those neat little descriptions to what problems a business like Global Groove Life really solves.
As we’ve reflected on before, Fair Trade is really about the people. We deliver great products, but we’re all about the people who create them.
Helping to preserve the cultural integrity of producers
Helping producers and their communities to overcome financial insecurity
Helping to create frameworks for small businesses that enable producers to become independent and successful.
Let’s break those down.
Around the world, it’s more and more common that the cultural heritage of small communities is being eroded. The coinciding increase of global tourism and use of the Internet have meant that people who were once completely isolated from the world at large are now right in the thick of things.
Put yourself in that position.
It’s hard to protect your traditions, beliefs and cultural history when you’re suddenly under a microscope, and everyone in your village is being forced to leave the land your culture is built on, in order to migrate to the cities to scrape together a living.
But when you are working with a Fair Trade agreement, you are no longer faced with the stark choice of tearing yourself away from your culture so that you can survive.
Your basic needs are cared for, and so you are able to stay in your village, investing in the local economy and continuing to be involved in your traditional way of life.
You are not exposed to the soul-destroying loneliness of moving away from everyone and everything you know for a pittance, working for a corporate client who doesn’t care about your conditions, or that all your traditional knowledge is starting to disappear the longer the people in your community are away from each other.
When we first met Dia, she was in a flurry. Life had been going fine, but just recently her husband had been in accident. He was unable to walk, and needed urgent medical attention. Without his income from his job as a driver, their family, previously comfortable, was suddenly in dire straits.
For many producers around the world, things are just fine, but a single event can knock everything off-kilter. They make enough money to feed their families, keep everyone clothed, and maybe even to enjoy the odd indulgence.
But if the family’s main earner gets sick or has an accident, the future becomes bleak extremely quickly.
These days, Dia is one of our master tailors. She manages a team of women, and her work provides a steady income for her family.
Her Fair Trade contract guarantees that she makes a comfortable living - that allows her to put a little aside for a rainy day. She has now picked up enough customers through her Fair Trade contacts that she’s safe from the unexpected.
This is because a Fair Trade agreement gives the producer a deposit to create their orders. The onus is not on the producer to come up with the funds for all the materials before they’ve been paid - which is the opposite of how most larger corporate businesses do it.
Large corporations not only expect producers to front all the costs, but they will often catch producers out in fine print: If an order is running late, the producer will be charged a fee for every extra day. If stock doesn’t sell, or a customer returns it, the producer won’t be paid for those items.
This creates an extremely stressful situation for the producer, because all the risk is on them, and there is no leeway for life to happen. If someone gets sick, has a baby, totals their bike… it all comes crashing down and the producer is completely exposed.
Fair Trade protects producers from these lose-lose situations, and guarantees them reasonable conditions for fulfilling their orders.
Many producers have little formal education. They’re talented, hard-working and resourceful, but it’s often the case that they haven’t been exposed to the frameworks that make running a business simple and sustainable.
Having a Fair Trade contract in place helps them to meet people who can teach them how to systemise their businesses, and who can give them valuable insights into the markets the producer is trying to crack.
Bijay, who creates our wool felt products, started out with a little shop. He came up with all the designs, made them by hand, staffed the shop, sourced customers and trained new staff - all himself. Often in the same day. It’s the kind of activity that would terrify (or inspire!) a lesser creature.
Unfortunately, trying to do everything yourself handicaps the business.
Bijay was constantly exhausted, stressed and drained of creativity. He would lose designs and samples, customer orders would get confused, and while he wanted to grow the wholesale aspect of his business, he just couldn’t find the time.
When Bijay realised he could very simply systemise many aspects of his fledgling business, he saw that he would be able to scale up his output significantly. With some simple operating procedures & specifically trained staff, he is now able to focus on the high-leverage tasks of getting new wholesale customers and creating innovative new designs that his customers would be excited to purchase.
While that’s a vital element, the practical application of a Fair Trade contract goes far deeper into the lives and businesses of the producers. It transforms individual lives, and can revive entire communities in one swoop. Those are the problems we help to solve, and we couldn’t be happier about it.
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