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Blog posts tagged with 'fair trade'

Reducing Impact, Recycling Inspiration

In today’s struggle to preserve the earth for future generations, the inclusion of people in developing countries is more important than ever. Not only are those in developing countries more at risk for health problems caused by environmental factors, without their participation in taking measures to combat environmental problems, there is little chance of seeing real change. As fair trade producers operating within the principles of fair trade as defined by the World Fair Trade Organization, Unique Batik is committed to using materials sourced sustainably, minimizing waste, and using production techniques that reduce environmental impact.

Environmental risk factors across the globe are “greatest for the poor and vulnerable populations in developing countries,” says the WHO’s Health and Environment Linkages Initiative. This brings an even greater sense of urgency to our need to not only stop environmental impact but to reverse it. For example, deforestation, one of the greatest environmental issues in Guatemala, is both exacerbated by the poor rural populations who must make use of whatever resources they can find, and puts them at risk for further tragedy such as the 2005 landslides that killed more than 1500 people. In order to prevent the continued disappearance of Guatemala’s forest, there must be other employment options for its people.

Fair trade seeks to create employment opportunities that offer not only the financial means to preserve the environment, but to do it in a way that is intentional in reducing the impact of productions. Outside of the production of our crafts, Unique Batik also participates in other environmental initiatives. There is the everyday, such as recycling at our home office in Raleigh, NC, and riding our bikes to work. There is also the truly inspired, such as a project in Guatemala that takes mundane trash such as the plastic bags and wrappers and the ubiquitous plastic water bottle, and turns them into eco bricks that are donated to build homes for the poor. With little infrastructure in the rural area of Lake Atitlan, there is trash but nowhere to put it other than scattered about the ground in otherwise picturesque villages (at worst) or in a giant pile on the mountainside (at best). By stuffing the bags and wrappers into the plastic bottles until they become sturdy and solid, the bottles can then be used as “bricks” in building adobe homes and other structures.

Despite the many challenges to environmental sustainability in developing countries, in some ways their people could teach those in the Global North a lot about reducing, repurposing, and recycling. The people with whom we work are masters of recycling -- wasting almost nothing. Some of the recycled materials they use include: textiles, metal, plastic, and glass. These recycling techniques may be as straightforward as using recycled glass bottles to make glass beads or as whimsical as making bangles out of broken guitar strings. We at Unique Batik are proud to work with artisans whose creativity and ingenuity can rescue items that would otherwise go to waste and instead transform them into beautiful and useful products. Somehow, it seems appropriate that in a fair trading relationship, inspiration and knowledge are not a one-way thing. It is through working together that we can make an impact for good, both on the lives of producers and on this world we all share.

Artisan Spotlight: Carmelita Ramos

Sparkling beads dance across her hands as Carmelita Ramos creates earrings and bracelets to sell to customers in the distant land of the United States. Her dreams of earning a living and educating her children were once just as distant, but through her work and creativity and her connection with fair trade, those dreams have become a reality. Carmelita’s story did not begin so differently from that of many, many other women in Guatemala. Being able to sell her handicrafts to a fair trade company like Unique Batik has given her the hand up -- not handout -- that changed the course of her life.

Born into a family of thirteen children in the rural mountain village of San Jorge in the department of Solola, Carmelita’s challenges in life started early. None of the girls in her family were sent to school. This is still true for many girls in Guatemala; of the two million children who do not attend school, most are indigenous girls living in rural areas. In fact, 90% of these girls do not attend secondary school. Carmelita was no exception.

With no education, Carmelita’s options were few. She became a maid at a young age, which is a typical path, with 98% of domestic workers being women and 70% of domestic workers being indigenous Maya. However, Carmelita’s story took a turn when, through her employers, she began making jewelry to sell for export. She immediately showed promise as a designer, creating an original bracelet featuring bamboo and making oven mitts out of scrap fabric. For her first significant order, she received a paycheck of Q1200 (the equivalent of $150 US dollars).  It brought tears to her eyes because she had never seen a Q100 note.

Carmelita’s creativity and ingenuity have been a big factor in her success as an artisan. Now part of a jewelry making cooperative of eleven people, all family members, Carmelita sources the beading materials herself and trains co-op members how to make new jewelry designs. Unlike many other artisans in the area, when Carmelita’s group creates exclusive new designs for a customer, they do not sell them to anyone else. The group members work from their own homes, but confer on pricing, production, and any other issues that might come up.

Today, not only has Carmelita’s story defied expectations, but her leadership of the artisan co-op has influenced the lives of many others. Her own daughter, Maria, has graduated with a degree in business administration.  She has partially paid for her education and transportation to school through part-time work making beaded jewelry with the artisan co-op. Another group member, Marta, has five children, for whom Marta desperately wanted an education. Her husband did not support her dream, but through her earnings as an artisan, all of Marta’s children have gone to school.  Since the time her jewelry work began, Carmelita and her husband, Juan, have gone from living with her mother-in-law to buying their own land and building a two-story cement block house -- an extraordinary accomplishment for a woman who started with no education and no means.

The journey has not been without its challenges. Competition in the area is fierce for beaders, keeping their wages low. There is even a “bead mafia” which controls the availability of beads, so Carmelita’s group is not always able to source the colors they need. US buyers are not always reliable, and it is the long-term, fair trade relationship with Unique Batik that has made a difference in the success of Carmelita’s group. Ten years ago, a US buyer placed a big order for beaded jewelry from women in Carmelita’s village, then pulled out without paying the women for their work. A mutual acquaintance gave Carmelita Unique Batik owner Sharon Gale’s phone number. Carmelita called Sharon for help, and that began the relationship between Unique Batik and Carmelita’s cooperative.

Carmelita’s talent as a designer is special, but without the opportunities created by fair trade purchases, even with all her hard work and creativity, the story might not have such a happy ending. Given the opportunity to be treated with integrity and turn her gifts into a secure life for her family, Carmelita has transformed her own narrative. Thanks for being part of her happy ending!

Nutrition: Vital Support

Among the many challenges faced by disadvantaged populations in Guatemala is that of providing adequate nutrition for themselves and their families. Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. The mainstay of the typical diet is based on corn (in the form of tortillas) and beans, and also includes sugar, cheese, eggs, meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. Although many Guatemalans enjoy the exceptional coffee grown in their country, it is typical a much weaker brew than that preferred in America and is usually served with plenty of sugar. The most impoverished people in Guatemala often subsist on a diet of just corn, beans, and fruit, which provides inadequate amounts of many nutrients, including amino acids and fat.


Almost 20% of the population of Guatemala is categorized as undernourished by the World Bank.  Children under the age of five are especially at risk, with over 25% being underweight and over 50% being stunted (short for their age). Most at risk are rural, indigenous people, who are also the less educated and poorest populations in the country. Anemia is big risk particularly for pregnant women and infants. The underlying cause of the much of the nutritional deficiency for the majority of Guatemalans is economic access to food. 54% of the population is living below the poverty line, and these people only consume about 60% of the minimum daily caloric requirement, leading to malnutrition.


Unique Batik  provides vital income to just this at-risk population through fair trade purchases of their handmade crafts. Seeing the nutritional challenges faced by so many of the people of Guatemala, we wanted to do more, and when the good work of ODIM was brought to our attention, it seemed like the right partnership for advancing the cause of good nutrition in Guatemala. Unique Batik has been a supporter of ODIM for several years, funding their Children’s Cultural Exchange (CCE) and Nutrition Project.


ODIM is an organization operating in the Highlands of Guatemala on the shores of Lake Atitlan in two villages, San Juan and San Pablo La Laguna, with a focus on healthcare and education. ODIM stands for Organization for the Development of the Indigenous Maya, and the two villages where they work have a total population of approximately 20,000 people, almost entirely indigenous Maya. ODIM’s Nutrition Project was founded in 2010 after seeing a drastic increase in severely malnourished children at their healthcare clinics. The Nutrition Project is a comprehensive nutrition program that works with twenty families. Participants attend monthly classes in hygiene, nutrition, combating common illnesses, safe food preparation, and family budgeting. The program also includes cooking classes, bi-monthly health checks, emergency food assistance and a community garden where families in the program work and share in the vegetable harvests.


The nutrition, cooking, and budgeting classes, as well as the organic vegetables and herbs from the community garden established especially for them, has greatly improved the lives of both the mothers and children involved in the Nutrition Project. ODIM no longer sees such extreme cases as the month-old baby girl, weighing 4 pounds and the 10-month-old baby boy, weighing 8.8 pounds who were the impetus for the program.


You can support the good work of ODIM by visiting their website http://www.odimguatemala.org/, connecting to their organization on Amazon Smile, and , of course, continuing your fair trade purchases through Unique Batik!

Unique Batik and Fair Trade: The “Fair” in Fair Trade

Continuing our exploration of the ten principles of Fair Trade as outlined by one of the leading bodies in the fair trade world, the World Fair Trade Organization, let’s look at what it means to pay a fair price. The idea that producers receive a fair price for their goods is the most basic idea of the fair trade movement. It’s also the one most familiar to consumers. If you ask someone what “fair trade” means, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. Some people equate “fair trade” with “fair wage” (although there’s a lot more to it than that).


It doesn’t really seem necessary to explain why, if we call ourselves fair traders, we should be paying artisans a fair price. Even small children understand the concept of fairness. Maybe some of them understand it better than a lot of America’s large corporations. Instead of talking about why it’s important to pay a fair price -- which seems pretty obvious -- let’s talk about what makes a price fair. Who determines what’s fair? How do they decide how much is enough?


First of all, who determines a fair price? The answer is that the price is determined by both the producer and the buyer. We dialogue together to determine what price is appropriate for each product that is being made. If that seems unlikely to work because the goals of the two parties are mutually exclusive, consider this -- as fair traders, we want to provide a living wage to artisans. It’s one of the reasons we’re in business. But both the artisans and we at Unique Batik want that income to be sustainable, so the price that we pay them has to translate to a retail price that consumers are willing to pay us. In our mission to provide sustainable income to the artisans with whom we work, we must work together to find that fine line.


So, how do we determine what constitutes a living wage? There are a lot of factors that affect the answer to that, including where the artisans are working, the cost of materials, and how long they will work on the product. The cost of living in their local economy is relevant, as we are buying from artisans living in different countries, where the cost of living may vary. Producers know that we pay a fair price as we are familiar with the cost of living in the area and what local wages are.


The important thing is that wherever they are living, artisans earn enough to pay for the basic necessities of life. They should be able to provide shelter, food, and clean water to their families; they should be able to educate their children, and have access to medical care.


As any small child could tell you, we’re supposed to treat others the way we want to be treated. When you look at it that way, it’s fairly simple.