Melody recently returned from a trip visiting fair trade producers throughout India, in partnership with Deakin University, a fair trade accredited university in Melbourne, Australia.
During her four weeks in India there were countless moments of learning, confusion, despair and hope. Here she shares her highlights.
Three highlights from seeing fair trade firsthand
HIGHLIGHT #1 – Watching trash become treasure
Waste disposal is a huge issue for India. Rubbish piles up along every street, and vulnerable men, women and children, known as ragpickers, sift through it for survival. An hour or so out of Delhi, in an area scattered with slums and new industrial developments, I visited fair trade social enterprise Conserve. Here, a quietly passionate woman named Anita is leading a rubbish revolution.
Conserve takes rubbish, off-cuts and used items – everything from plastic bags to fake turf to seatbelts – to create useful and aesthetic bags and homewares.
They train people from the slums in sewing and garment production, building their skills and equipping them to find employment in the growing manufacturing sector. From the income provided by sales, Conserve runs a school and health clinics in the local slum community.
It was impressive to see trash literally become treasure, but what I loved most about Conserve was their commitment to drawing out and celebrating the inherent treasures in people who are normally seen as trash themselves. Read more here.
HIGHLIGHT #2 Eating around the fire with Bittu
Bittu Singh cuts fabric at the Himalayan Tailoring Centre (HTC), a Fair Trade workshop in Dharamsala, northern India. I had the privilege of staying with his family in his home for a week.
To be honest, I was anxious in the lead-up: what would the toilet situation be? Would I be able to wash my hair? How many people would I be sharing a bed with?
But my fears were met with the most warm and generous display of hospitality I’ve ever been on the receiving end of.
There was hot tea ready to go first thing in the morning, along with a bucket of water warmed over the fire especially for my washing. I was given a large bed to myself, while Bittu and his parents, wife and two children shared two other beds. I walked with Bittu to the workshop each day, where he loves his job. He used to work long hours preparing food in a restaurant kitchen, but has since been trained to cut patterns at HTC, and in a few years he hopes to learn tailoring.
The fair trade standards that HTC adheres to include a commitment to capacity building for employees, along with fair wages, non-discrimination, environmental responsibility and much more.
As I sat around the fire on the floor of Bittu’s small kitchen, eating and laughing, I knew I was in the company of a man who could confidently take care of his family – and me – thanks to the opportunities provided by fair trade.
HIGHLIGHT #3 Seeing an entire production chain for Fairtrade garments
Many of the producers we met were smaller artisan handicraft groups, but we also got to see fair trade on the other end of the scale, as we traveled for a week with Australian Fairtrade/Organic company 3Fish.
We visited organic cotton farms where farmers are taught how to grow their crops using resources that are abundantly available.
I’ve always enjoyed the flavour combination of garlic, ginger and chilli – but I didn’t realise this mix was also an impressive natural pesticide!
Organic farming is proving substantially more effective and sustainable than conventional methods, and since these farms are also Fairtrade certified, the farmers and their communities are getting a better deal too. We saw toilet blocks, cattle watering troughs, a school complete with bus fleet, and bore wells – all results of the Fairtrade premium provided to the cotton farmers.
Driving through Tiruppur, a major textile hub in southern India, I saw countless small workshops lining the streets, with tailors squeezed behind sewing machines, working late into the night. There was a clear difference visiting the factory of 3Fish’s production partner: working conditions are clean, roomy and safe; employees are noticeably valued, and senior staff are passionate about seeing fair trade practices reach more and more producers.
There are hundreds of individuals involved in creating the shirt you’re wearing, the cup of coffee you’re drinking, or the bag next to your desk. As consumers, we have the choice to ensure that what we buy doesn’t cost the livelihood of the person that made it.
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- Check out the amazing companies featured in this post:
- Read more from Melody’s journey in India by visiting Deakin’s official blog.