Trading Out of Poverty
This week, we celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty (17 October).
A few weeks ago, I (Maranda) had the privilege of visiting Fair Trade producers in Swaziland.
Swaziland is a beautiful country, a little larger than Northern Ireland and a little smaller than Wales. It’s landlocked, surrounded largely by South Africa, but sharing more than half its eastern border with Mozambique. The western side of the country contains mountains which gradually shift into the Middleveld of rolling hills; the eastern side is a lowland plain leading, on the border with Mozambique, to the Lebombo Plateau.
Though beautiful, however, Swaziland faces many development challenges. While the size of its economy makes it nominally a lower middle income country, the distribution of wealth is unequal, and as of 2010, 42% of its population lived on less than $1.90 a day. Work is hard to find: unemployment is over 25% for the whole workforce and over 50% for young people. And health-related issues – and their impacts – are serious: UNAIDS lists Swaziland’s adult HIV prevalence as the world’s highest at 27.2%; and the World Food Programme estimates that over a quarter of all children are stunted because of malnutrition and 45% of children are orphaned or vulnerable.
In short, pro-poor development is essential, and exploring options that can deliver it is vital. One possibility for farmers is Fairtrade – the production of commodities certified with the FAIRTRADE Mark – and three sugar producers in Swaziland are Fairtrade certified. We are focusing, however, on Swaziland’s manufactured goods and crafts, and so I was looking at Swazi groups that are, or are working towards becoming, Fair Trade Organizations as defined by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO)’s ’10 Principles of Fair Trade’.
For Fair Trade Organizations, of which the best known in the UK is Traidcraft, it’s not so much a question of setting standards for the production of individual products, but of ensuring that everything the relevant business does is done according to Fair Trade principles – starting with the fact that “poverty reduction through trade forms a key part of the organisation’s aims” and “the organisation supports marginalised small producers…[and] seeks to enable them to move from income insecurity and poverty to economic self-sufficiency and ownership.”
What can organisations working to these principles, whether certified as yet by the WFTO or not, contribute to human flourishing in situations such as Swaziland’s? Here are five initial reflections:
There are enormous reserves of artisanal skill within Swaziland – and great pride in the work people do. Fair Trade builds on and enhances that.
Much of the work produced by both individual artisans and groups is truly beautiful: Swaziland’s Fair Trade products are not a ‘charity buy’ but are worth purchasing because of their quality. People connected in different ways with Fair Trade emphasised the businesses’ role in giving skilled creative people an outlet, recognising the artistic merit of what they are doing. That recognition was in itself important.
Swaziland Fair Trade (SWIFT), a Fair Trade business network, is helping individuals and groups overcome the initial obstacles to making a fair income from the goods they produce.
SWIFT is a member-based association which aims to make Swaziland a leading supplier of “world class, ethically produced products resulting in the upliftment of communities throughout the country.” To that end, it provides training and support services to individuals and groups starting or growing Fair Trade businesses. At entry level, it’s helping ‘Level 1’ members, artisans still involved in very small-scale production, to develop sustainable business models, an understanding of the quality control needed to sell their goods formally, and access to local and wider markets. This involves a range of services in addition to in-class training: for example, SWIFT takes artisans to trade shows so that they can see the markets they’re trying to enter, and all SWIFT members are able to display information on the SWIFT website and to sell their goods at SWIFT’s store. Thanks to funding from Comic Relief via the Shared Interest Foundation, some artisans have also received seed funding to improve their manufacturing or retail capacity.
SWIFT states that 25 new businesses have been established since 2011.
Larger Fair Trade enterprises are also reaching some of the people who are often the most marginalised, enabling them to gain an income.
There are numerous examples of this among SWIFT members at ‘Level 2’ (larger, formally registered businesses) and ‘Level 3’ (the largest, export-ready businesses). For example, ‘Level 2’ member Amarasti offers rural women the chance to do embroidery work at home, enabling them to earn a living while caring for family members. The women pick up piece work, take it away, and then return the finished work to the organisation’s base. The work is highly skilled: Amarasti has recently been able to fulfill an order for a large retailer that demanded high standards of workmanship and uniformity.
‘Level 3’ member Eswatini Kitchen, meanwhile, buys produce for its jams and chutneys from local small producers – while the carved wooden spoons that form part of their gift sets are carved by disabled people in remote communities. In another instance, Traidcraft has written about the grandmothers growing chilli peppers for Level 3 member Black Mamba, and the difference that Fair Trade has made to them and their community.
While what has happened so far is encouraging, there is scope for far more.
It’s inspiring to hear people talk about the difference Fair Trade has made in their lives – and we’ll be sharing some more of that with you over the months to come. But one thing that emerged from conversations was that there is the capacity for much more. True, for some individuals and organisations, the orders they are receiving match their current ability to deliver. But others have the capacity to export new lines or significantly larger amounts of already available products. Especially for those businesses that have relatively large permanent workforces, expanding the volume of orders is crucial to maintaining stability … and to perhaps being able to increase the number of staff they can hire.
Eradicating poverty is a shared enterprise
What we do matters.
Early on in the conversations with Eswatini Kitchens, I’d confessed to a fondness for their lime pickle and Swazi fire. As we entered their honey processing facility, one of the staff turned to me and asked, “How do you eat the lime pickle?” In that moment, the connection between my daily life at home in my kitchen and what I was seeing in rural Swaziland came together with a sudden clarity.
In reality, those connections between our lives and the lives of other people around the world happen all the time, every day. We just don’t see them. But as we know, the products we buy and the energy we use and the things we support politically and the way we pray matter. And if we can help ourselves and others to see the choices we make in our homes and gardens and schools and churches and and workplaces for what they really are – choices that affect local and global neighbours – we can begin to try to choose a way of life that works to end poverty, to reduce inequality, to seek the restoration of creation.
That’s not a new thought for our supporters. But it’s a thought worth holding onto – and sharing and praying about – this next Day for the Eradication of Poverty.
- for work people are doing around the world to help themselves and others overcome poverty in all its dimensions
- that all people may be able to access the resources and freedoms they need to flourish
- that all people may understand the deep interconnection that links us with each other – and seek to act in ways that benefit neighbours near and far
- in thanksgiving for the work of Fair Trade businesses and networks in Swaziland and around the world
- that the Fair Trade vision of a more just, sustainable world may continue to inspire action for good in Swaziland and elsewhere
Short Notes: Freedom Sunday, Food Justice
The 18th of October is observed as ‘Anti-Trafficking Day’ – a time to resolve to pray and act on behalf of the millions of people who are trafficked and/or trapped in forms of modern slavery. The Clewer Initiative is asking churches particularly to think about how we may be connected to people who have been trafficked or enslaved, either through the goods we purchased or through what’s happening in our own communities. The Initiative has produced a wide range of excellent resources, ranging from a collect, full ecumenical service and materials for individual prayer times to simple-to-print posters alerting people to the signs that someone may be enslaved – and how to respond. They’re heartily recommended.
Some churches will be using these resources this Sunday or next Sunday, as they’re close to the 18th. It’s a busy week, though, and The Clewer Initiative stresses that the resources can be used at any time during the year. Please pray:
- for an end to human trafficking and modern slavery
- that our churches may be aware of the issue and may offer appropriate support to help people who have been trafficked and/or enslaved
- in thanksgiving for organisations seeking to raise awareness of human trafficking and modern slavery, to end these practices, and to protect those who have already been harmed by them
And please consider introducing these (or other) resources into your church’s worship at some time in the coming year.
Let us share in this bread of life that God gave to us this day. Remember those who hunger and thirst on their journey in search of shelter.
Response: As we eat a piece of this bread, we commit to stand in solidarity with those who are hungry and stateless. We pray earnestly that God may use us as instruments to eradicate homelessness and hunger. Amen.
World Food Day is on Monday the 16th; the UN theme for this year is “Change the Future of Migration: Invest in Food Security and Rural Development”
The choice of theme reflects a recognition that the factors forcing people to leave their homes are not only conflict, persecution and political instability but also “hunger, poverty, and an increase in extreme weather events linked to climate change.”
The Food and Agriculture Organization is calling on the global community to invest in rural development, “creating conditions that allow rural people, especially youth, to stay at home when they feel it is safe to do so, and to have more resilient livelihoods” as well as providing “increased food security … better access to social protection, reduced conflict over natural resources and solutions to environmental degradation and climate change.”
“By investing in rural development,” the organisation notes, “the international community can also harness migration’s potential to support development and build the resilience of displaced and host communities.”
The World Council of Churches and Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance is inviting churches to celebrate the Churches’ Week of Action on Food around World Food Day (week of 15 to 22 October) and has adopted the UN theme. As part of marking World Food Day and the Week of Action, could you perhaps use the prayer above, taken from this year’s WCC-EAA prayer resources, to signal your (and your family’s, or home group’s, or church’s) commitment to food justice? Please also pray:
- for all who have been forced to leave their homes because of food insecurity and hunger
- for greater investment in ecologically and socially sustainable rural development