Over the past 10 years I have been working in the fair trade movement focusing mostly on supporting community development projects that are producing traditional crafts.? First with my own educational fair trade company, then starting Global Exchange’s Wholesale Division and now as the Executive Director of Fair World Project.? I have had the good fortune to visit many far away places to work with different cooperatives.
Visiting different countries to build fair trade relationships is always a wonderfully exhilarating experience because I connect with the people that truly believe in human rights and are supporting community development on the ground.? Often I have some experience during my trip that also leaves me feeling utterly helpless because of the vast amount of exploitative behavior that exists.? ?My recent trip to Bali was no different.
I was in search of building a fair trade partnership for Fair World Project?s new dedicated fair trade brand gift basket program, I wanted baskets that were beautiful and supporting communities in Indonesia.? ?Connecting with Mitra Bali Fair Trade, a member of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) to work on this was my goal but I was not having luck in communicating with them.? A friend of mine that lives in Bali said I should visit a family that she has known for 7 years that sells baskets to see what they are doing.?? She didn’t know how they worked…if they were a cooperative or not.? After a few minutes of arriving at their shop and seeing the beautiful baskets I started to ask some questions.?? I picked up a very small basket that was unrefined compared to the others and asked them if they had children working, after all these years in the fair trade movement your gut is your best friend, and my gut was telling me something was not right.? The man said, ?oh yes, after school the children work.? ?After digging deeper, he told me they start at 9 years old and begin work after school around 12noon and worked until 7pm at night.? He said this without hesitation.? A few hours a day after school to learn a traditional skill is often the case in countries I visit but 9 years old and 7 hours a day is different.? I asked if I could visit the basket makers and he said ?oh no, no one can visit with them, we work with a ?collector? and they would not allow it?.?? Needless to say I left with a feeling of helplessness imagining what was happening in these villages.
Finally after a few weeks, I was able to connect with Mitra Bali Fair Trade, I was so relieved.? I always connect deeply with the people I meet throughout the world in fair trade organizations.? When I walked into Mitra Bali Fair Trade in Bali, Indonesia I was met with open arms.
Meeting Agung Alit, the founder of Mitra Bali and President of the WFTO’s Fair Trade Forum in Indonesia was like seeing an old friend.? We had only briefly spoken on the phone the day before my visit, but when I met him in person Agung Alit said ?I felt like I already knew you when we spoke on the phone?.? It was true I could feel the connection even over the phone but it also had to do with Agung Alit?s gregarious personality.? We spoke about the importance of fair trade, he talked about the problems in Indonesia with China?s ability to make anything for cheaper, he had just brought an article to their weekly meeting on how China just invented a wood carving machine, it would put the traditional wood carvers out of business in Bali.? He talked about tourist industry money not reaching the locals but rather the wealthy corporations and business owners.
Agung Alit showed me his tattoo of the WFTO,? showing me his commitment and love for the idea of what fair trade can do for his country.? He said:? “we may not be changing the world but we are going to continue to try.”
The World Fair Trade Organization is having their annual meeting in Kenya in May, I asked him if he?d be attending, he told me he just had a stint put into his heart and that he was waiting for clearance from his doctor but he wasn?t sure if he?d receive it.? He said he was going to miss his friends that he has grown to know and learn from over the years.? We talked about our common friends in the fair trade movement;? Bob Chase from SERVV, Kelly Weinberger? from WorldFinds and John Hayden from Jamtown.? And then again he said to me ?I feel like I have known you for so long?.? That is the beauty of fair trade, we understand we are all one, working towards a common good around the world.? Having a common vision for what the world should look like.
Mitra Bali Fair Trade works with communities around Indonesia to build sustainable livelihoods through craft production.? They were founded in 1993 and for the first 3 years only Agung received funding for himself to live while building Mitra Bali from a Swiss organization, today Mitra Bali Fair Trade is fully sustainable from their craft sales and receives zero outside funding.? They support several social projects such as building bathrooms for villages at their homes, clean water, and sustainable forestry for their wood products.
They have a microloan program for their artisans that allows them to take out NO interest loans for up to $1000. When there is no work for a certain village because of lack of orders, they provide cow loans, this was based on needs assessment interviews with woman in the villages, they asked them how they can help when there is no work?? The woman?s response was that they needed cows to help them on their land during rough times.? They also take care of the cows and when the cows give birth they are able to sell those calves to Mitra Bali for a good amount of money to supplement their income. This way Mitra Bali has more cows to loan in times of need.
Fair World Project’s? gift basket program will offer various sizes and prices and will include fair trade dedicated brand products from Dr. Bronner?s, Equal Exchange, Alter Eco, Theo Chocolate, Guayaki, Alaffia and other companies that are dedicated to creating a just and sustainable product through their entire supply chain. ?These will be great gifts for loved ones, friends, and clients.? I am so pleased we can offer these dedicated brands in a basket from Mitra Bali and help support the wonderful country of Indonesia build sustainable communities and work towards our goal of a day when all trade is fair.