Craft Politics: Telling Important Stories through Handicrafts

Contributing Writer
Dana Geffner

craft politicsI visited communities in the most impoverished areas in the world, sat in people’s living rooms and lugged boxes for nearly a decade to learn and tell the stories of the people that made fair trade handicrafts.  I believed a high quality handicraft could tell the story of not only who made it and how, but also the heart wrenching unjust realities due to policies that undermine communities and will only be changed if people are knowledgeable and engaged.

In 2010 I helped to start Fair World Project, which focuses more on our unjust food system and the policies that have forced the world’s commodities to become cheaper and cheaper, exploiting our agricultural producers to the point of no return, ruining entire communities.  Communities around the world are collapsing as a result of  policies and practices that attend globalization, that favor rich societies that over-consume without caring about the true cost and harms of production.   The rich are becoming richer, and producer communities are continuing to live in slum-like conditions – dying from malnutrition and lack of healthcare – from the middle of Mississippi to the Sudan.   However, Fair World Project continues to stress the importance of fair trade handmade crafts that can connect and inspire people to politically engage and help transform trade policies to work for the 99% rather than the 1%, or speak up when atrocities occur like they have in Rwanda or Cambodia.

I realized firsthand how a tangible handicraft could be the starting point for bringing people together and transforming the structures that hold us apart. I felt the power of educating groups of people when I held up a beautiful scarf or bag created by people that were truly marginalized.  Organizing around the production of these beautifully handcrafted items could help to share tragedy and explain complex and unjust policies.   For example, handmade items produced by landmine victims and widows from the time of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia that killed over 2 million (out of 8 million) people; or Guatemalan Indigenous communities exploited and murdered with help from the U.S. government; or handicapped people in Vietnam who are kicked out of their families and left with nowhere to go and no way to survive; or women living in the slums of India that pick through trash dumps to care for their families; or Burmese refugees that are ignored and not protected by the Thai government, forcing young girls to turn to prostitution.  It was important to me to work with, and tell the story of, women in Mexican communities that lost their lands, forcing their husbands to abandon their families as a direct result of the U.S.’s North American Free Trade Agreements (NAFTA) with their only option to migrate to the U.S. in the hopes of sending money back to their families to help support them.  In all of these situations and plenty more, women, children, and their communities survive making traditional crafts using the only resources they have.  Approximately 80% of fair trade handicrafts are created by women that support their children and elders, in communities with little or no social system support.

Fair trade distribution partners work in long-term relationship with these talented artisans and connect and help them tell their stories to ethical consumers in the developed world.  Fair pricing covers pre-payments for supplies, the true cost of production, and community development funds to help build healthier communities. Their stories need to be heard to help shape trade and land policies, so governments and corporations stop exploiting the most vulnerable on this earth.

To get engaged and participate in transforming trade policy visit:

To learn more about fair brands working with artisan groups in marginalized communities that tell these stories visit:

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