During this difficult time, we wanted to share some stories from our artisan partners around the world. Because of Covid-19, they are all shifting the way they do business. But one thing remains the same: their dedication, maintaining their long-term relationships, mutual respect, and hope for the future.
Fair trade businesses are fully transparent, and in the spirit of this transparency we wanted to share the good and sometimes unpleasant realities. The fact that our partners are willing to share this is above and beyond most mass-produced, conventional brands will do. Fair trade is a safety net for artisans in crises: most artisans have already been paid up front, and most will still get paid through this pandemic. But for conventional brands, do they even know who are their employees are? Are their factories safe? Will they have a job when this is over? Choosing to purchase fair trade NOW is a way of keeping a connection to the people who make the products we sell. You are part of the story.
Thanks to these words from our friends at Ganesh Himal Trading, our partners in Nepal who make beautiful felted items we all love: “This crisis will take clarity, patience and perseverance to move through but the ultimate story has not yet been written for how it will play out and we can all play a part in writing the chapters that mean the most to us.”
We will continue to update these as we hear more. For now, here are their stories:
- In Cambodia: grappling with how to keep their teams and families safe and financially afloat; many makers are polio survivors and for them to contract COVID19 would be devastating.
- In USA: getting ready to receive their large spring shipment; usually a joyful and busy time fulfilling all of the spring purchase orders, but with the majority of their retail partners closed, that's not the case this season.
- Artisans were paid deposits long-ago, but Malia is now scraping together the rest of the balances for their orders, with no clear way forward.
- Coronavirus has hit Kenya, too. Christine tells me that their way of business has changed a lot. The formal sector has shut down and regional movement is controlled. Lots of people are approaching Christine looking for work. And I'm (Jen) in a position of possibly having to reduce our orders from Kenya due to the effects of coronavirus on our customers. I'm really trying to make sure our partners don't take the brunt of it.
- Shifted their employees to making face masks for their employees, families, and surrounding community and are asking if anyone is interested in wholesale orders of face masks.
- They are also holding fundraisers on Facebook to help pay their employees after massive cancelled orders (Facebook fundraiser)
- During the 2014-2016 Ebola Epidemic they borrowed money to finance operations to prevent losses to the Mamas. As they are still repaying this debt they are unable to borrow additional funds without putting the future of Global Mamas at risk.
- Their 76 person employee team (producers, quality control staff, production managers, Ghana store staff, US wholesale office staff, etc.) has committed in solidarity to a pay cut to help share the burden of the financial losses. Many of the Mamas are independent business owners and rely on global demand for their products, which is dramatically lower for the time being. They will make interest free loans available as they are able.
Ganesh Himal Trading:
- Received a big shipment of goods on March 11; we are fully stocked and the producers just got a big payment. They have been in touch with all of their producer groups to explain the situation and help them understand that we will try our hardest to get them their normal orders for May but that they should be aware that we may not be able to due to store closures and quarantines.
- Their producers receive orders and payments every two months so none of them are in a dire situation, at present, which is good. Ganesh Himal will try hard to provide them all with good orders in May and they know that.
- Nepal: The government has closed the borders, is no longer issuing tourist visas and has canceled all mountain climbing expeditions. They are also in the process of closing schools and trying to understand social distancing. For a country that is highly dependent on tourism this is devastating.
- Cambodia: In the main workshop in Phnom Penh, they've split their working teams into small groups, working from home where possible. In their workshop in rural Cambodia, all artisans have been mandated to stay home, and they have delivered sewing machines so artisans can continue to work from home. With orders down from their other wholesale partners, they're struggling to manage cash-flow, ensuring they're still able to pay all artisans during the quarantine. They have far more costs right now, but dramatically less production and income. Fair Anita is paying 100% upfront (as per usual) to assist with this cash flow issue.
- India: Delhi and most of the other states in India are on lock down, mandated by the government. All workshops, markets, and facilities are closed, so no production is happening, apart from a small amount that's able to happen at home. Some artisans have transitioned to making masks: let us know if you're interested in buying bulk supply.
- Chile: coronavirus is advancing quite rapidly in Chile, and the government has put a mandatory curfew and quarantine in place. The artisan partners we work with in Chile already work from home, so they're glad to be able to continue their fair trade work during times of quarantine.
- Peru: On March 16th, the President of Peru enacted a mandatory 15-day quarantine, with no flights in or out of the country, and no local transportation allowed, either. People are allowed to walk to the pharmacy, food market, or bank when using a mask and carrying the proper ID. If you're caught disobeying, you will be jailed or killed, especially if caught outside after curfew (8pm-5am). I (Joy) was, unfortunately, caught in this quarantine, so I'm experiencing the effects of COVID-19 from Chimbote, Peru. Most people in this community barely have enough money to sustain their expenses for 3 days, let alone 15, so people are really suffering without access to food, many having no option but to steal to feed their families. As our artisan partners here are the most recent to have fully-sustainable income with Fair Anita (and therefore don't have savings as other artisan partners are taught to do), we have stepped in to provide additional income to our partners in Chimbote. We're providing advances to artisan payments to support the women and their children (with disabilities, who need their life-saving medication) during this difficult time.
- We're keeping in touch with our artisan partners. We believe they remain safe at this time, but are asking for regular updates. Recently, more of their governments have closed their borders and/or are quarantining communities. These nearly 8,000 artisan and farmer partners are concerned for both themselves and also for us here at SERRV and in the United States. But they also remain optimistic, and hope you will be able to continue to support them through this challenging time.
---This article was written by Emily from Fair Trade Winds