Raising the standards for fair trade and livelihoods

This article  appeared in Parivartan, the AID Sanfrancisco Bay Area newsletter in December 2005.

L.S.Aravinda describes AID-India’s new plans for marketing ecoproducts and debates the issue of how to put two and two together when it comes to demand and supply.

In India today, many communities practicing traditional livelihoods such as spinning, weaving, jute and bamboo crafts, vegetable dyeing, paper making, metal work and other small-scale industries have lost some of their competitive advantage in part due to governmental policies that have allowed large industrial manufacturers to copy some of their special techniques and designs without negotiating any terms or royalties with them. Therefore, those that want to sustain a livelihood through traditional skills as well as those learning a new skill need better marketing support.

Many organizations that train people in making garments, household and gift items (such as the bag in Kalamkari style, above) have sought help from AID to get their products to the market. AID volunteers have also sold products such as greeting cards, candles, soaps, mats, frames, jewelry, pottery, and toys through stalls at meetings, conferences, neighborhood networks. From 2001-02, AID-India also ran an “Eco Shop” in the busy Grant Road area of Bombay.

This experience in marketing ecoproducts has led us to examine livelihood issues in greater depth. How can we build co-operation and reciprocity between consumers and producers? If consumers knew how the price they pay for a product is split up among all those who produce and market the product, would they be concerned to ensure that all receive a living wage? We believe so. Living wage is the simplest, most honest way to ensure livelihood and development opportunities for a large number of people who now struggle to access 2 meals a day. When parents in a family unit earn a living wage, conditions that lead to the use of child labor and seasonal migration end. And when communities have strong roots and retain access to common resources, they have the power to plan their own development based on local knowledge and priorities.

We also believe that quality as well as quantity of income makes a difference in people’s lives. For example, Chand Bibi from Srikakulam district recently learned to process and make household items from jute. Though she is not earning more than she did previously through daily wage work, she is now able to set her own hours and work from her home. Also, whilst earlier her family used to be scattered in search of work, these days they are together year round.

In Orissa, the new AID Rural Technology Resource Center works with local artisans and trains youth in various appropriate technologies and methods of production that sustain the natural resource base. This training extends beyond production into marketing products such as handmade paper, windmills etc. Our “know-your-product” labels will explain how an item–say, a Khadi Kurta–benefits the wearer, society and the planet. By keeping customers informed of the amounts earned by the tailor, the weaver, the dyer, the spinner, the farmer, the truck driver, the accountant, & the web designer, we hope to raise the standards of fair trade locally as well as globally.

This article by L.S.Aravinda emerged out of a discussion on the same topic during her recent visit to the SF Bay Area in July of 2005.