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Gift-buying Season: A Look into One “Fair Trade”-certified Shop and How the Classification Makes a Difference (or Not)

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QUETZALTENANGO – With the Christmas, Hanukah, vacation, and holiday season only a couple weeks away, many groups are releasing recommendations for how to give gifts that are ‘socially conscious’, environmentally friendly, and sustainable. One way that some try to make ethical decisions in their holiday gift buying is by searching for Fair Trade-certified businesses. 

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) claims that their certified enterprises “transform local communities, pioneer upcycling, empower women, champion refugee rights and practice organic farming.” This is a particularly significant claim, because, as many organizations assert, limited opportunities and unfair wages are one of the many root causes of migration. The qualifications for certification under Fair Trade tries to resolve some of the practices that create unsustainable environments that can force people to migrate.

Revolution English interviewed Yabal, a Fair Trade-certified social enterprise that empowers indigenous women weavers in Guatemala, to gain insight into what the Fair Trade certification means to them and the communities they touch.

What does ‘fair trade’ mean to Yabal?

“For Yabal, fair trade means that our primary focus is the well-being of our artisan community partners and keeping that mission central, we make business decisions that will positively impact our artisans and employees. Fair trade means paying a fair wage, above the market price, but it also implies more than just paying a good wage- it means investing in long term trade relationships and providing consistent income that artisans can count on and plan their lives around.”

What is an aspect of fair trade that is especially meaningful to Yabal?

“For us, we have slowly grown our artisan cooperatives when we know we can commit to giving each woman in each group consistent weaving work, each month. While a weaving job once or twice a year is better than nothing, it’s not significantly going to change a weaver’s life or economic situation. For us, the long term relationships with artisans and the consistency in work is an extremely important aspect of Fair trade that doesn’t always get the same attention.”

How does Yabal help these communities that are so important to the organization and to Fair Trade?

“The long-term relationship aspect also goes hand in hand with providing our artisans trainings and workshops to continually improve product quality and their own capacity as business women. To take traditional weaving techniques with traditional communities and market them to a Western market requires a huge learning curve for everyone- so when artisans make ‘mistakes’ we don’t just jump ship and look for more experienced, ‘export ready’ artisans, but instead work together with our same artisan communities to build their skills.”

How did Yabal become certified?

“We are verified members of the Fair Trade Federation and certified Fair Trade members of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO). Both organizations require an extensive application process that includes records of payments, artisan policies, contracts, and recommendations from third parties.”

Are there any down-sides to the process?

“The WFTO also requires a certification process where a fair trade auditor from IMO-cert came and interviewed each artisan and employee privately, as well as reviewed internal documents, etc. It is a very thorough process. The main complaint is that the WFTO certification is very expensive for small artisan groups making it prohibitive to afford. We were lucky in receiving a grant to cover the process, as otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to afford to pay for it.”

Elizabeth Frank is a Freelance Writer at Revolution English. Elizabeth currently reports from Guatemala and writes about news in Latin America for immigrants in the U.S. Prior to Revolution English, Elizabeth taught English in Guatemala for three years.