In University, I learned about the fair trade business model. Then, when I joined the Ten Thousand Villages marketing team almost 3 years ago, I learned about fair trade principles and benefits, and how our artisan partners value this type of trade. I heard stories and saw pictures detailing the huge impact this movement has on people’s lives. But it wasn’t until a trip to Nepal and Bangladesh in November that the impact of fair trade really hit home for me. It changed from an abstract concept to an undeniable reality.
In 2006, a 6.2-magnitude earthquake hit just south of Yogyakarta, a densely populated city on the Indonesian island of Java. The devastation was incredible. Thousands perished and many more were left homeless.
For Sumijan, the catastrophe was life-changing.
April 25, 2016 Update:
Last summer, I wrote about how fair trade relationships had given Ten Thousand Villages’ artisan partners in Nepal much quicker and greater access to relief, in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocked the country on April 25, 2015.
When the earthquake happened, we worked quickly to help mobilize emergency aid. And since then, we’ve been focused, as always, on maintaining strong relationships with the groups in Nepal. We believe business relationships that have the greatest positive impact are partnerships built on trust, communication, fair wages and long-term commitments.
In November, I and a few others from Ten Thousand Villages had the opportunity to visit a number of our partners in Kathmandu, and witnessed firsthand their attempts to rebuild their lives. Due to the government’s sluggishness in mobilizing to disburse international aid funds, combined with fuel shortages caused by blockades at the border, sadly, very little progress had been made when we were there. In fact, a couple workshops we visited were predicting that they might have to close temporarily because of the fuel shortage.
In the end, agreements were reached that ended the blockades, and the groups continued pressing on courageously. Through the turmoil, a couple groups needed extensions to complete their orders, but they have been able to stay essentially on-track.
Fair trade buying relationships put money in the hands of the workers directly affected by the earthquake, which allows individuals and families to decide how to rebuild their lives. We keep in touch regularly with each of our partner groups in Nepal, and we are pleased to report that they are doing well, despite the ongoing challenges.
-Ryan Jacobs, CEO
July 22, 2015
In May, I had the privilege of representing Ten Thousand Villages Canada at the World Fair Trade Organization’s biennial international conference in Milan, Italy. The WFTO is a network of organizations that believe in the power of fair trade to change lives, and brings together producers, farmers, wholesalers and retailers from around the world.
This was my second time attending a WFTO conference, and another great opportunity to discuss with other fair trade leaders Ten Thousand Villages’ commitment to create equitable trading relationships.
It was amazing to connect with so many of our partners in such a short span of time. On the one hand, it was incredibly gratifying to hear about the impact fair trade is making in the lives of so many artisans around the world. But on the other, I was struck over and over again by how much work there is yet to do. Our partners want us to order more of their handmade products – and for that to happen, Ten Thousand Villages needs to sell more. It’s as simple as that.
There was one particularly powerful experience that left a lasting impression. Many of Ten Thousand Villages’ Nepal-based partners were able to make it to the conference, which took place exactly one month after the massive earthquake rocked their country. In private conversations with me and formal presentations to the assembly, the leaders of Nepal’s fair trade organizations shared stories and pictures of the aftermath. It was clear that the earthquake had had an effect not only on the buildings and places of business, but on the people and families who have been building better lives working in these organizations.
But it wasn’t just the devastation that struck me. What moved me the most was how fair trade gave them incredible access to support and relief.
In the midst of all the chaos, Fair Trade Group Nepal – a network of more than a dozen fair trade producers – was able to immediately mobilize both funds and people to start relief efforts. Artisans associated with these fair trade groups began receiving food and other support right away, and temporary shelters were quickly set up for people whose homes were damaged or destroyed. This was no easy feat – roads in many places were impassable, the electrical grid was down, and many bank accounts were frozen.
Perhaps even more challenging to deal with than people’s physical needs was the psychological trauma. Severe aftershocks continued for weeks after the initial quake, and this made everyone fearful about going inside – especially at night – and made it difficult for people to go back to their regular routines. Fair trade group leaders recognized this early on and worked to establish counselling programs and support groups to help people cope with their very legitimate fears.
More than anything, the people of Nepal want life to return to normal, which includes getting back to work. Because of the stability and additional resources fair trade provides, artisans and their families have been able to start taking care of themselves and their families more quickly and effectively than many others.
Fair trade isn’t solving all the world’s problems. But knowing it has the power to create self-sufficiency and stability, as it has done for the artisans of Nepal through this period of crisis, is a big motivator for us to keep pressing on.