World Fair Trade Day is approaching on 8 May 2021, so it’s a good time to look into why choosing Fair Trade produce plays a huge role in shaping a better world – particularly since the start of the pandemic.
When the virus struck in early 2020, artisans, farmers and traders were not only battling a worldwide health crisis. Frequently, they were also faced with the sudden and devastating loss of their livelihoods.
Many Western retailers cancelled or suspended their product orders when national lockdowns started. Shockingly, payments were often withheld for orders that had already been completed.
And, even once the pandemic is over, producers will be at risk through the worsening effects of climate change on their countries and supply chains.
How can buying Fair Trade and ethically sourced products make a difference?
To answer these questions, let’s look at the 10 Principles of Fair Trade provided by the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO).
We’ll explore each of these and show you how Karakorum and our suppliers meet these principles below.
So, what will your Fair Trade purchase help you and us achieve? We’ll:
1. Create opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
It’s important to support and empower small manufacturers and artisans, so they can be
come commercially self-sufficient and move away from poverty and income insecurity.
Karakorum works with ethical home decor suppliers who do exactly that. For example, Gone Rural founded “boMake” (meaning: “women”) in 2006 – an organisation that helps improve the livelihoods of the communities in which their 750 women artisans live. It focuses on educational needs, health issues, community development and women’s empowerment and reaches over 20,000 local people.
2. Ensure transparency and accountability
Fair Trade organisations need to be transparent in their management, communication and all commercial relationships. They must be accountable to all stakeholders, respect confidentiality and involve employees, members and producers in their decision-making processes.
Karakorum mainly works with suppliers who completely fulfil these requirements and are fully certified as ‘Fairtrade’. If artisans can’t afford to be accredited, we keep an open dialogue with them and check that they meet these principles to the largest extent possible.
We’re also part of BAFTS, the British Association of Fair Trade Shops and Suppliers, who review our accounts every year. They hold us accountable to ensure that both we and our suppliers follow Fair Trade guidelines.
3. Support fair trading practices
All Fair Trade organisations have to trade “with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers” and mustn’t maximise profit at their expense. While artisans and manufacturers have to respect their contractual obligations, buyers must ensure they settle the bill as agreed. For handicraft products like the ones we sell, an “interest-free pre-payment of at least 50% must be made on request.”
Karakorum fulfils all these demands, and more: we usually pay in full before receiving items from suppliers.
For example, we paid the supplier of our Swazi Candles in advance during lockdown. This helped ensure that they had the funds to keep producing their goods under extremely challenging circumstances. That was important to us, although we knew that our order would be delayed and might not be delivered at all if the lockdown continued.
4. Pay fairly
We at Karakorum honour this by not driving down prices. Our artisans set their own fees which we ask should cover:
- A balanced local diet
- Education for their children
- Health costs
- Light and renovations in the house
- Savings for emergencies
We also accept mistakes. Sometimes, we may receive colours or patterns we didn’t request. However, as long as they’re well made, we will accept these and pay for them in full.
5. Reject child labour or forced labour
Fair Trade organisations must comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and national and local laws on the employment of children and on forced labour.
Karakorum ensures that the goods we sell are from such ethical producers or sourced directly from the artisans.
6. Ensure non-discrimination, gender equity, women’s economic empowerment and freedom of association
Fair Trade organisations mustn’t discriminate in any way based on “race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, union membership, political affiliation, HIV/Aids status or age.” In addition, they need to have clear policies and plans to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women. Employees and members have to be able to form and join trade unions and to bargain collectively. You can read more about the legal aspects here.
This is why many of Karakorum’s suppliers are either women-led or support women and young people. Again, Gone Rural’s “boMake” is an outstanding example of a group of women artisans who empower themselves and others in their communities.
In addition, our lovely Nicaraguan suppliers “Women of the Cloud Forest”, who craft many of our ceramic goods, have been able to ensure their artisan families can get their children into higher education.
7. Ensure good working conditions
Fair Trade organisations must provide a safe working environment for their workers. At a minimum, they have to follow national and local laws and ILO conventions on health, safety and working hours.
Karakorum buys from Fair Trade suppliers where possible. If artisans can’t afford to get accredited as “Fairtrade”, we survey them about their working conditions and check they follow all other Fair Trade principles before placing any orders.
8. Provide capacity building
Fair Trade organisations should provide development opportunities for small, marginalised producers. They may, for example, help improve their employees’ or members’ skills, management and production capabilities.
Karakorum’s supplier “Women of the Cloud Forest”, for instance, nurtures long-term relationships with small family workshops and cooperatives in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Peru. It also provides business training, product development and design and offers no-interest micro-loans and direct grants for workshop capacity building.
9. Promote Fair Trade
Organisations must inform about the aims, objectives, and activities of Fair Trade through honest, ethical marketing techniques.
10. Respect the environment
Fair Trade producers should, as far as possible, use raw materials from sustainably managed sources, buy locally and use renewable energy. Energy consumption, waste, pollution, and non-organic pesticides should be reduced where possible.
In turn, buyers should prioritise buying products made from sustainable, biodegradable raw materials.
This is why Karakorum only uses recycled or recyclable materials for our packaging (card or paper). We also don’t use branded packaging, as we’d like to encourage our customers to reuse our boxes and packing materials, which is more likely if they’re unbranded.
We even persuaded our suppliers to reduce their packaging where appropriate. For example, Swazi Candles’ packaging is now cellophane-free and uses simpler packaging materials.
Join us and help our suppliers thrive – now and after the pandemic.
We’ve now seen how you can make a real difference by buying fairly traded goods. The happiness of both our artisans and customers is very important to us. We want you to feel great about the lovely products you’re buying, and to know that we – and our suppliers – are working hard to follow all the Fair Trade principles listed above, and to change things for the better not just today, but long term.
The Fairtrade Advocacy organisation summarises this very well below:
“Returning to ¨business as usual¨ after the pandemic would reinforce the inequalities and unsustainability of our current system. Instead, a transformation of the economy and the governance of global supply chains is needed, not only in the interest of small producers and farmers, but also in the interest of present and future generations.”
You have the power to improve our artisans’ livelihoods and communities with each of your purchases.
Will you join us on our journey towards a fairer world?
Then we’d love you to subscribe to our newsletter! Learn more about our artisans, their beautiful ethical home decor products, and interesting Fair Trade events or offers.