As a social enterprise founded on the principle of fair trade, Azizi Life joins hundreds of organizations across the globe in celebrating the rights of small producers to access fair prices in a globally accessible market. Though the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) itself came into existence 15 years earlier, World Fair Trade Day was created by the WFTO in 2004.
What is the Definition of Fair Trade?
“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.” (World Fair Trade Organization)
In a fair and sustainable local and global economy, small and disadvantaged producers must have access to markets to sell their products at a fair price. Trade must benefit the most vulnerable and deliver sustainable livelihoods by creating decent and economically viable opportunities to alleviate and combat poverty. As the Fair Trade movement has gathered momentum, so too have popular misconceptions around the subject. We’re going to take a moment to bust some of these myths!
Myth: Fair Trade is anti-globalization.
Fact: Fair Trade needs international markets to thrive. While the negative aspects of globalization, including ‘race to the bottom’ issues of low wages, poor labor conditions, and environmental degradation are mitigated, the positive aspects of connecting small producers with wider markets, cultures, and ideas are fully taken advantage of.
Myth: Fair Trade takes developed world jobs and takes them to other countries.
Fact: Many Fair Trade craft products are inspired by cultures and traditions that will not be found in American or European industries. Many Fair Trade products do not have American or European alternatives. As Fair Trade enterprises grow, they employ more individuals from their communities.
Myth: Fair Trade means paying developed world wages in the developing world.
Fact: North American or European wage standards are not used as the basis for developing world wages. Wages give fair compensation based on the actual cost of production and are established by a number of criteria, including:
- Time, skill and effort spent on production.
- Living wages where the products are made.
- Purchasing power in that area.
- Local living costs.
Myth: Fair Trade products are of lower quality for the consumer.
Fact: When you buy Fair Trade products made by artisans, they really are handcrafted. This means that there may be some natural variation in a way that machine-made, mass-produced factory products may not feature. All this means is that the consumer is getting a genuinely handmade product, which in our opinion makes it a more unique product! Because Fair Trade enterprises work far more closely with small producers, they can forge long-term relationships with them and have an ongoing dialogue regarding consumer needs to produce better quality products.
Myth: It’s just chocolate and coffee.
Fact: Coffee was the first agricultural product to be certified Fair Trade in 1988, but Fair Trade handcrafts have been in production since 1946. There are now myriad products on the market: clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, and toys.
Myth: Fair Trade is just another type of charity.
Fact: Fair trade-based partnerships are designed to engender self-sufficiency and independence; it is not based on a ‘hand-out’ model. Azizi Life’s primary model is that of fair trade social enterprise. As an offshoot of our work, we have set up an NGO which supports local community development initiatives, supported in part by the income generated by Azizi Life Crafts and Experiences.
Myth: Fair Trade means more expensive products for the consumer.
Fact: Firstly, it’s important to say that when products are so cheap that they promote mindless consumption and a throw-away mentality, someone or something always pays the price, and it’s usually either the environment, vulnerable people in poor communities, or both. However, most Fair Trade goods are competitively priced compared to their non- Fair Trade counterparts. Fair Trade organizations work directly with producers so that they can return a greater percentage of the price to producers while keeping products affordable for consumers.
Do Azizi Life and Beeutiful Creations sell certified Fair Trade products?
Absolutely. In fact, we go above and beyond Fair Trade as the actual requirement to meet Fair Trade certification does not require us to pay our artisans as much as we do! Under Fair Trade rules, payments are tied to the countries minimum wage, and in Rwanda, this has not been updated for 44 years. Rwanda is getting a new minimum wage soon, so we will ensure that we meet the requirements when that comes out.
As a certified member of the Fair Trade Federation (Azizi Life US), Azizi Life values transparency throughout the entire supply chain of our products. Azizi Life is committed to paying an agreed-upon fair wage to the artisans as soon as we receive their products.
How do we ensure that we pay our artisans a fair wage?
- We start by talking to the artisans. We find out how much they expect to do the work.
- We then look at how long that work would take the average weaver (not the fastest or the slowest but somewhere in between) and find out the raw material costs.
- Once we have that information, we consult the Fair wage Calculator, local economic considerations and the artisans’ wishes to ensure that the artisan (after the raw material costs) gets an acceptable per diem wage. Often what we offer is more than what the artisans requested!
- We then calculate our selling prices based on this fair wage to the artisans. From time to time, the calculated selling price is too high to find any customers for the product. In that case, we will go back to the artisans and see if they can improve the technique to become faster or if the raw material costs come down if we get a large order. Failing that, we will stop ordering the product and instead focus on other products which we can successfully sell so that the artisans can continue receiving fair wage orders.
“Artisan payments is one of the trickiest things we do, which is why we always start by asking what the artisans want. To achieve a top-quality product, you need to provide the artisans with the right incentive – a fair incentive. However, it is unwise to aim too high and price yourself out of the market; you need products to sell. Furthermore, you do not want to be in a situation where it is better to make crafts than to be a doctor or nurse. Finding a balance in all this is what keeps us up at night.” Tom MacGregor, Co-Founder of Azizi Life
Our partner social enterprise, Beeutiful Creations, is also committed to ensuring suppliers are paid fair prices for their products and labor. They too use a Fair Trade wage calculator, which factors in such considerations as sourcing of raw materials, time spent in production, and delivery. Again, Beeutiful Creations pay their artisans and suppliers more than the bare minimum requirement to meet Fair Trade certification. Through working with Beeutiful Creations, the suppliers and artisans are better able to support their families, provide health insurance, and engage in further village-based micro-enterprise schemes. Prices are set with suppliers to come to a fair and satisfactory figure to both parties, and pricing is reviewed regularly to ensure the supplier’s circumstances are considered. You can see their products here.
According to the WFTO, here are 5 ways you can make a difference:
- Promote economic empowerment – through fair payment, workers and producers can enjoy the fruits of their labor.
- Uphold gender equality – Fair Trade is an enabling concept that encourages women’s empowerment and enjoyment of women’s rights, two important pre-conditions of gender equality. A recent survey from an ongoing study revealed that Fair Trade enterprises have more women leaders compared to conventional businesses.
- Spread fair practices in the supply chains – inequalities in the supply chains are common. You can end this by purchasing certified Fair Trade products.
- Advocate responsible production and management of natural resources – amassing of corporate profits has led to the exploitation of the environment and depletion of natural resources. Fair consumption is the anti-thesis of unsustainable practices. Every Fair Trade purchase supports responsible production.
- Boost fair and ethical economy – supporting Fair Trade products encourages bottom-up social enterprises.
This Fair Trade Day, we encourage you to spread the word, share this post, and purchase certified Fair Trade products so that you know that the people behind the products you buy are really tasting the fruit of their labors. As consumers, we can send a powerful message to multinational corporations that we want Fair Trade to become a reality for farmers and artisans in economically disadvantaged communities around the world.