It was a simple conversation around a kitchen table. A friend and colleague was hosting a leader in the Peruvian Fair Trade movement. We were discussing a conference we had all been involved with … our work … our hopes.
And then the visitor began sharing her story.
Before her Fair Trade journey began, she had been a young wife and mother, living in Lima. Times had been hard. Her husband couldn’t find work. She couldn’t leave the home to work as she had to care for their disabled child. They were living with relatives, as they couldn’t afford their own house. And as this continued, day after day, she began to despair. It seemed as if there was no way out.
And yet, somehow, for the sake of the child who laughed in her arms when she carried it outside, she kept going, hoping that something would emerge.
One day it did. A nun, who was involved with a Fair Trade artisans’ group, suggested that she join in. The nun would bring her a loom, so that she could weave at home, while taking care of her child. It was a small step, but she took it.
But she didn’t just begin to weave. Fair Trade groups ask every member to be engaged in how the group is run – it’s how Fair Trade helps to build community and resilience and solidarity. And so this young woman began to engage with her fellow group members. And it turned out she was not only a good artisan; she also had leadership abilities that hadn’t previously been given an outlet. Over time, she took an increasing role in the group’s management. And when I met her – thousands of miles away from those first steps in Lima – she held a leading role in the national body that united Fair Trade artisans throughout Peru.
It was profoundly moving to hear about the difference Fair Trade had made to her. There were tears and laughter. And then, at the end, I asked about the importance of the additional money Fair Trade enabled artisans to get for their work. What difference did it make?
It means, she responded, that we can educate our children. And that means we have hope.
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. It’s one of the thing that comes to mind when people ask “Does Fair Trade make a difference?” It’s very much on my heart as we bring out this campaign asking people to give Fairtrade or Fair Trade products as presents this Mothering Sunday… and beyond.
I buy Fairtrade/Fair Trade presents on their merits. The scarves and jewellery and chocolates and cards and flowers that Fair Trade shops and retailers offer are gorgeous.
But they’re even more lovely when you consider that by buying them, we’re not just showing love to the people who have mothered us … but also to our global neighbours.
Many of them are themselves mothers. Around the world, women are often among the most vulnerable workers. They can benefit the most from what Fairtrade and Fair Trade standards offer: more money, better working conditions, a safer environment, often improved access to healthcare and education, sometimes help acquiring their own assets, and always the right to participate in decision making about their own work.
No one is saying Fairtrade and Fair Trade are perfect, or will solve all women’s problems. But they are one means that can help – and when we buy Fair Trade or Fairtrade products, we not only give pleasure to people we love here; we can also be part of a system that offers hope to women – and men – and their children around the world.
Could you join in?