As the old Chinese Proverb says: Give a man a fish and he eats today, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
The Fair Trade movement works to reduce poverty around the world through trade. This is done by working with disadvantaged communities and producers to create opportunities for them to develop their own businesses, rather than by providing handouts in the form of traditional charity.
The challenge for many people trying to find a way out of poverty is that their own community do not have the money to buy the products they can produce. Many of the poorest communities in the world struggle to work their own way out of poverty due to difficulty in gaining access to markets for their goods.
What they need is access to markets of potential buyers. This is where the Fair Trade movement has a key role to play. Fair Trade enterprises work with disadvantaged suppliers and producers from developing countries and connect them with markets in wealthier countries. This can be for simple commodity items like tea, coffee and chocolate – items many of us are familiar with in regard to Fair Trade.
However, Fair Trade is not limited to these commodity items. How many of us have travelled to a far-flung country and discovered beautiful handcrafted goods? Often, we come away wondering why we cannot find such beautiful handmade things in our own country. Small scale artisans are often highly skilled and produce beautiful quality items that are of great value to the right buyer. Fair Trade businesses help to present artisans work in markets at a value that is in line with the skill, artisanship and time required to create the goods.
In addition to helping producers connect with markets for their goods, Fair Trade businesses work with producers on developing their business to ensure they are a good supplier that is meeting the demands of the market. This can mean working on a broad range of things. It often starts with practical things like identifying the simplest and most cost effective means of shipping or helping to set up secure systems for money management and transfer across borders.
It also involves working with the producer to understand what will sell in the buyer market. Fair Trade enterprises often help with aspects of design to help artisans adjust their product to be saleable in cultures different to their own, while retaining the essential essence of their originality and cultural artisanship.
Traditional crafts are often passed from generation to generation through families. When communities come under pressure with poverty, if they do not have the right support with buyers for their goods, the time spent teaching and learning these crafts can be lost to looking after basic needs. By connecting artisans with markets, Fair Trade enterprises help small scale artisans to continue practising traditional crafts so that these crafts are not lost to us.
Making the initial connection between producers and markets for their goods is key, but just the beginning. The Fair Trade movement not only connects producers with markets, but also works with buyers to put in place structures that enable producers to be able to ensure a secure and stable ongoing income.
Ongoing income does not come from one initial purchase from a buyer. It comes from building a long term relationship between those producing the goods and Fair Trade businesses that work with them.
Many of our Fair Traders of Australia have been working with their suppliers for decades, across generations of families. These wonderful partnerships not only benefit the suppliers by connecting them with markets, helping to build their business and giving them income security; they by bring to us beautiful authentic handmade items that enrich our homes and lives across the globe.