Hazel Dobson’s trip to Vietnam (Traidcraft “Meet the People” Tour)

Gateway World Shop’s Manager, and member of the BAFTS’ Board, Hazel Dobson, signed up for a Traidcraft “Meet the People” Tour to Vietnam last Autumn. She had previously visited Peru and Kathmandu on producer trips and thought her gallivanting days were over! She opted for Vietnam as it was a challenge for her to find out about a country which she had only ever associated with a horrific war in the 1960s, when she was a teenager. It was somewhere she would otherwise never had thought of visiting.


The visit was almost three weeks in total, with internal flights, two long road journeys, and two by river. The tour covered almost the entire country in that space of time (the bright orange country on the map below). Vietnam is a long thin country with its Eastern coast bordering what the Vietnamese call the Indo-China Sea. It was a French colony from the middle of the 1800s and the people suffered a lot under the French. Vietnam is now a Communist Country -this was the reason for the Americans entering the war in the 1960s. Hazel was rarely aware of this fact on her visit, as visitors are very well catered for. Half the current population of 90 million is under the age of 25. Vietnam aspires to be a first-world country, and has good trade relations with Australia, but Russia is never mentioned. It seems to have a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism, and veneration of dead relatives as its main religions.

Her tour embraced many stops, including Hanoi (North), the capital City, Hoi An (about halfway down the country) and Saigon (in the South). Vietnam was very green and agriculture appeared good, with an abundance of fish and prawns. Livestock at local markets was still “on the hoof” alongside a never-ending array of noodles!

In terms of suppliers, the visitors went to see “Craft Link“, one of Traidcraft‘s suppliers, with over 40 artisan groups and around 5,000 artisans in the North of Vietnam. They work with many minority groups, (about 12% of the population) and a few traditional tribes who have been left behind as the economy improved. Typical crafts include lacquer works involving crushed egg shells, from designs created from the artisans’ own imagination or memory, or carving mother-of-pearl shells for the inlay.  This long process is repeated many times, dipped in lacquer, dried then rubbed smooth.


Some Vietnamese crafts which Hazel bought back with her -including lacquerware (red orange picture) and use of crushed egg shells (black and white image of couple)

Some entire villages make furniture from bamboo, and smoke the wood first to harden it. Craft Link supports this industry by giving training in marketing their products, which are for local markets, not for export.

There were also visits to a social enterprise in the city of Hue, in which Traidcraft has had some input. It provides work opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged young people. One particular project stood out in Hoi, a fair trade project called “Reaching Out” for severely disabled young adults, many of whom were deaf-mute, and a silent tea room. This project has concentrated on marketing themselves locally and with great success. They produce bedding, tableware, woven and metal goods and more.


Serving in silence…the silent teahouse, where guests respond with notes to say what they want to eat and drink.

The tour included Mai Handicrafts, a Traidcraft supplier, and visiting some crocheting projects, in Central and Southern Vietnam. They saw workers packaging items and doing quality checks at Mai Handicrafts, as well as creating recycled paper products, although there was some doubt as to whether this project would be sustainable in the long-term.  All in all, there were some excellent social enterprises and fair trade businesses doing their best to keep traditional skills alive and work with some of the most vulnerable and marginalised members of their society.

Posted in Uncategorized

The 10 Principles of Fair Trade by Ramona Hirschi, Little Trove


I recently gave a talk at a conference in Jersey about how current trade favours certain countries and leaves the poor marginalised. I showed how trade trends can be changed if people thought and acted differently towards all the resources this world has to offer.

I naturally offered the ten principles of fair trade as the business model that can bring about that change. The fair trade principles seek to bring the people in the fringes back in the fold. We hear about the fair trade principles but do we really understand them? Do we understand what work fair trade organisations do to follow these principles?

I would like to take you through a series I’m calling “The Heartbeat of Fair Trade”. I will try to show you what goes on behind each of the fair trade principles, starting with principle 1.

Principle 1 : Creating opportunities for disadvantaged groups in the developing world

Who are the UK’s favourite trading partners?


Because of the freedom of movement of goods within the European Union, you will expect that a lot of intra-European trade is done. The statistics above show that we trade most with Germany, France, Netherlands etc. Since our biggest imports are road vehicles, it’s understandable that Germany and France rank highly. We love our BMWs, Audis, Mercs, Peugeots, Renaults, don’t we?

Outside the EU, our biggest trading partners are the USA and China, by a large margin. Just looking at the product labels on the goods in our high street store, it’s clear that businesses like trading with China.


There are several reasons why most of our imports come from the same countries. Let’s take China as an example. The costs are cheaper than manufacturing here in the UK. What about manufacturing costs in less developed countries like India or Indonesia? China is still cheaper because they have achieved such high volumes that economies of scale are achieved. Economies of scale mean as you scale up, you reach a point where it’s more efficient to produce and costs per unit are lower.

Another reason why businesses are happy trading along established routes is because the routes are familiar and secure. The supply is consistent. The supply chain is tried and tested. There are less nasty surprises along the way. There’s a system for designing goods for the UK, manufacturing standards are in place, quality control has been perfected and shipping runs like clockwork.

There is a strong business case for trading with our favourite partners. It makes complete sense. Until you think about the consequences on the rest of the world. Think about all the other businesses and producers in less developed countries. What about their skills? Are they not worthy of being included in global trade? Are villagers in Madagascar who make lovely bags not worthy of exporting their goods? Is a community in a leprosy colony to be left unemployed because their only skill is in weaving and they haven’t got a factory building?

Little Trove producers

If you put yourself in the shoes of the poor in under-developed or developing countries, you will see that they do not have a lot of choice. If they can make some products, they don’t tend to have a strong local economy in which to sell those goods for income. They need to participate in a global economy and tap into the riches of other countries. If they don’t, they will remain poor, living hand to mouth or dying of poverty.


One way forward to bridge the gap is for us to create opportunities for disadvantaged groups in the developing world. Fair trade principle 1.

Simply put, we should create trade opportunities with people who are otherwise overlooked. We should go to rural parts of the world and help disadvantaged producer groups access the world market. We should look to import goods from a wide variety of communities.

Little Trove producers choosing yarns to weave

This is what Little Trove and other fair trade companies are doing. I travel to remote parts of India and Indonesia to look for communities that need income. If they can make some products that have potential, I will help them with design ideas, make modifications to existing products and give them whatever necessary advice to get good quality products to import to the UK. The goods are then sent to our trade customers who sell to the public. When our trade customers re-order goods, more orders and monies are sent to the producers. The producers can increase production, increase the number of people working and ultimately improve their lives.

Sure, it’s tough to have to do “extra” work helping people develop products. Sure it takes longer to develop items. But it’s the only way that people on the fringes can be brought into the global economy. Trade left on its own will not naturally gravitate towards these rural groups. Businesses have to consciously decide to do it despite the tougher challenges and higher costs. I believe strongly we cannot settle for a low cost economy. We must recognise that our fellow human beings in many parts of the world make products that will enhance our lives. We must create economic opportunities for the disadvantaged.

Posted in Uncategorized


How many 17 year olds can say they have run an award winning business?

A surprisingly large amount actually, thanks to Young Enterprise, a scheme created to teach teenagers about business through business. Teenagers across the country are given the opportunity to set up their own company with a product or service of choice which they must then market and sell to the public.


The girls after winning the Regional Young Enterprise Award

There are easier things to do while sitting A-levels.

Fleet is one such company, formed in September 2014 by 13 Lower Sixth Students. We began by handmaking scented hearts from recycled fabric and selling them at local fairs. Ten months later and we’re representing the South East in the Young Enterprise Company of the Year Award with our ethically sourced Bangladeshi jewellery, sold and shipped around the world.


Fleet Oxford earrings

From the beginning of the Young Enterprise process, we knew that we wanted to create a fair trade, ethically sourced product that would give back to the community. It was through a shareholder that we became aware of a woman’s co-operative in Bangladesh with fair trade principles where vulnerable women, often survivors of abuse and human trafficking, receive a salary above the minimum wage and their children are provided with an education. Having personally visited the co-operative, our shareholder could confirm that woman receive help for any social, health or psychological difficulties they may have, while also allowing them to become self-sufficient.


Fleet Oxford jewellery

Plus the jewellery, ranging from intricate necklaces to colourful bracelets made from recycled Sari material, is beautiful. Even if we say so ourselves. What’s more, it’s supplied exclusively by us in the UK. More information about both the jewellery and the co-operative can be found on our website. Yes, we have yet to master the art of subtlety.

Although maybe that’s a good thing. After all, with endorsement from future “Dragon” on BBC’s Dragons Den, Sarah Willingham, and orders for jewellery from ceramics maker Emma Bridgewater, we couldn’t afford to be subtle.

But if we’re making it sound easy, it’s not. Things like this sadly don’t happen overnight, and Young Enterprise has been a massive learning curve for all of us at Fleet, and there have been moments that have gone somewhat…less well than other. Turning up the trade fair without any of our stock may have been one of them. The process has taught us lessons though that can’t be learnt in a classroom – such as the importance of making a checklist and how to grab opportunities and make the most of them.


Screenshot of Fleet Oxford website

We have also learnt that business, and fair trade business in particular, can have a huge social benefit. We have grown up with stories of greed in business causing economic meltdown and recession so it has been a revelation as to how much good business can achieve if run on fair trade principals.

That’s what makes winning the Regional Finals and having the opportunity to compete at the Nationals so exciting. It’s much less to do with the awards, and far more about the recognition for what we’ve put into Fleet and what we’ve gained as individuals from the experience of being a part of Young Enterprise. The fact that we’re able to do so while helping bring sustainable benefits to our suppliers makes the experience even more worthwhile.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Fleet and our jewellery, you can find us at www.fleetoxford.com or on most social media at FleetOxford.

Posted in Fair Trade

Gilli Robbins retires from 10 years of managing Fair Trade at St. Michael’s, Oxford

Gilli Robbins: a life in fair trade

Shop Manager retires after 10 years of bringing fair trade to Oxford

Fairtrade at St Michaels, St Michael at the North Gate, Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX1 3EY

Gilli Robbins has been at the helm and the heart of Fairtrade at St Michaels since its earliest days – one of our original volunteers who quickly metamorphosed into our first manager.  Since then she has overseen the day-to-day running of the shop with super-efficiency whilst cherishing everyone and everything in it.  She has master-minded all the non-food buying, at any one time maintaining friendly relationships with up to 70 different suppliers and somehow memorising all the details about them and their products; she has kept the shop looking consistently fabulous with beautiful displays which cause new customers (and old) to pause on the threshold in wonder; she has imposed miraculous order on impossibly large quantities of stock squeezed into impossibly small storage spaces.  A hard act to follow!


As Gilli steps down as shop manager, she reflects back over the events that inspired her to work in fair trade.  At the age of 24, Gilli moved to Nicaragua to work as a midwife, delivering the babies of the poorest women in the country. During this time, she met her husband, Marcus Robbins. Marcus’s work in Tropical Forestry Development took Gilli and their four children to countries all over the world – Honduras, Nepal, Belgium and Barbados, before they finally returned to the UK and settled in Oxford in 1997.

On her 60th Birthday in 2010, Gilli went to Paraguay. She was able to go to Santa Maria de Fe’ and visit the crafts women whose work is sold in Fairtrade at St Michaels.

Gilli saw how difficult people’s lives were and wanted to make a difference.  She joined Fairtrade at St Michaels as a volunteer in 2003, and then became the shop manager in 2005.

Gilli Robbins role as shop manager at Fairtrade at St Michaels extended to working with the fair trade producers.  One of Gilli’s proudest moment involved meeting Maryam Bibi, CEO of Kwendo Kor, an organisation working to empower Pakistani women living under the rule of the Taliban.

‘Maryam presented me with beautifully woven baskets that were decorated with shiny bits of  plastic and buttons. I explained to her that our customers would love the basket without the embellishment, and suggested other changes that could be used to improve their designs to appeal  to western taste. I also introduced her to other places who would sell these goods.’

Maryam took on Gilli’s advice on product design. Kwendo Kor continues to be one of Fairtrade at St Michaels’ most-loved, and best-selling ranges of homeware.  Gilli felt humbled that her feedback had had a significant effect on the lives of Pakistani women.  Gilli has played a crucial role in ensuring that fair trade producers create products that appeal to western consumers.

The future of Fair Trade? In Gilli’s mind there is still a lot to be done!  But with a total shop turnover of over £1.8 million in sales, she feels proud that Fairtrade at St Michaels has had a significant impact on the lives of fair trade producers. Pushing forwards with fresh blood, Fairtrade at St Michaels is full of new ideas, energy and determination. ‘We are amazing and we can do things to change the world’

Posted in Fair Trade

Thoughts on “The True Cost” Movie by our Marketing and Membership Coordinator

Andrew Morgan’s docufilm “The True Cost” was released worldwide on Friday 29th May. It shed harsh light on the garment industry, the pitfalls of excessive consumer capitalism and the cons of relentlessly pursuing profit whilst ignoring the hidden costs to humanity and our environment. It moved me to tears to see the farcical void between thoughtless throwaway Western consumption and the horrendous price paid by those at the production end of the chain. It made me ashamed to be part of such an economic system.


Final Embrace Rana Plaza April 2013

Fast fashion has moved forward with such speed that the old “Spring/ Summer” and “Autumn/ Winter” seasons are long gone. Nowadays it is one new season a week. Production costs have soared, but big corporations ensure that consumer prices are kept low.  They have the power to do this, as they can go to another factory in the same country  or, worse still, to another country, if their demands aren’t met – and poor countries such as Bangladesh are desperate to survive economically. What alternatives do they have? This cost-squeeze inevitably means corners are cut, and can lead to such disasters as Rana Plaza, where workers were forced back to work by management even after cracks in the building were pointed out.

Apparently, the year of the Rana Plaza disaster (2013) was fashion’s most profitable year. It was also the year in which three of the four worst fashion disasters occurred. Bangladesh is at the bottom of the chain, with no effective unions and a system that doesn’t protect its workers. The justification for the lack of change is that the country needs the economic development. The excuses are that people choose to work in the garment industry. The reality is that there are no other alternatives, or they are even worse..and Bangladesh has some of the lowest-paid garment workers, earning less than $3 dollars a day. The rules in the factories are tough, and there are reports of workers being beaten for not keeping up with demand, or asking for better conditions and pay. Thankfully, as Safia Minney – Co-Director and Founder of People Tree (an ethical Fair trade fashion company)- sees it, Fair Trade offers a “citizens’ response to correcting a largely dysfunctional trading system”.

Sadly, the problem is much more wide-reaching. The film delves into pesticide use, genetically modified crops, spot spraying (an organic cotton farm in Texas is also looked at) and the consequences of cotton being re-engineered to keep up with the demands of fashion. Land is farmed too intensely, and our environment pays the price. The type of GM cotton offered to developing countries provides big corporations with a way to keep ownership of the cotton seed. It leads to a monopoly, farmer debt, the seed doesn’t control pests as it should, more pesticides are used, the soil becomes contaminated, and as farmers spiral further down into debt, companies like Monsanto reclaim their land. Symptoms of toxicity can be mental retardation, cancer, birth defects, jaundice, and with no money for medication, the farmers wait for family members and relatives to die. A tragic fact is that many farmers are found to have committed suicide in the fields, by drinking the pesticides. It is often the same corporations who make the fertilisers, create the genetically modified cotton seed, and produce the medicines which they cannot afford. Big businesses win, win, win whilst people and planet lose, lose, lose. 


Example of skin damage caused by spraying crop pesticides

Consumers are fed the enchanting story that acquiring more material goods means more happiness, when in fact too great a stress on material values can lead to an increase in psychological problems. We are sold the line that consumption solves our problems, makes us beautiful, loveable, and loved, and that increased consumption solves this even better. However, a throwaway society also causes problems with landfill increase and dumping the excess on developing countries. Again, Safia Minney, Co-Founder and Director of People Tree, believes the customer is in charge, and needs to be a catalyst for change by refusing to buy cheap fashion. Yet, whilst consumers can connect with eg the chemicals in a non-organic apple, they do not link in to the many negatives of GM, non-organic cotton, and need to buy into the wider world benefits of pesticide-free cotton clothes. It would seem that, after the oil industry, fashion is the second most polluting in the world.

One of the saddest moments of the film comes quite near the end when a young Bangladeshi garment worker, interviewed at various points throughout the film, breaks down in tears at having to leave her daughter in her home village, because her family can better look after her there. She feels she had failed as a mother, yet is trying to break the cycle of seeing her daughter end up as she has. She wants a future, education, prospects and choices for her little girl.  Then people will see she has tried to be a good mother after all. She is angry at having to produce garments made “with their blood” (referring to Rana Plaza, and wanting better conditions, but having been pushed back by management). Bloody violent scenes are also shown in Cambodia, as garments workers are killed and beaten for demanding better wages. All they want is an increased minimum wage.

Why do conditions not change? Because the governments in many developing countries are desperate for their economy to thrive. They hold down wages and ignore labour laws to stop the business leeching out elsewhere. In doing so, they feed the greed of the big corporations, and all other considerations go out of the window. Many voluntary Codes of Conduct do not seem worth the paper they are written on, and businesses are unwilling to submit to mandatory codes, as the law goes against the principles of free trade. The answer lies in holding up for scrutiny, and turning away from, the consumer capitalist system, which feeds upon limitless growth otherwise it cannot sustain itself. If not for people’s, but also for our planet’s sake, we need a huge systemic change to our economic and environmental structures where the consumer refuses to buy into the consumer-economy tank.

Posted in Uncategorized

Danusha – Nepal Charity Gig write-up by Alli Davies

April 25th began like a normal Saturday. Then we got the news that a major earthquake had struck Nepal and with that the world turned upside-down. Initially we were focussed on getting news about our team, but we also knew we had to do something to help. Our producers are all based in Nepal; one group in the south east and one in Kathmandu!

“What about a benefit gig?” I said to my co-director and friend Sue Lavender. “Go for it!” she replied, and 13 days later we found ourselves in a packed room above a pub in Whitley Bay, enjoying entertainment by local performers, a charity auction and a snack buffet. We were delighted that so many people responded so quickly. Everyone gave their services for free, and most of the buffet was donated by businesses in the area. A highlight of the evening was auctioning a dozen eggs for £65!

People came and gave in a spirit of community and generosity and we raised over £2500 for Oxfam’s relief effort. Ron Lodge, regional fundraising manager for Oxfam North said, “The amount you have raised is genuinely extraordinary, and the sheer effort, enthusiasm and passion behind your event in support of Nepal goes beyond a simple thank you. Yours is an incredible total galvanising your local networks but also local media and the wider community. It is by far and away the largest single donation for the appeal in the north region so far.”!!!

Our team survived the initial quake, though some of them experienced damage to their homes. They were all terrified and spent several nights sleeping outside in the rain. They had just moved back into their houses when the second quake struck on May 12th, and for them the terror begins afresh.

A major earthquake anywhere is bad news, but for a country with such under-developed infrastructure it is devastating. We are heart-broken at the situation that is unfolding in Nepal and will continue to do whatever we can to raise funds and to support our friends and colleagues who live there. One way you could help is by making orders from those suppliers working directly with producer groups in Nepal. Thank you. The picture below is not of Danusha producers but a very recent picture taken of some of the typical devastation wrought in the last few weeks.


Dubachaur is almost completely destroyed. Camp set up in the ruin of this school. Picture from Mike Lavender in Nepal right now.

Posted in Fair Trade

Fairtrade Wonderland Artweeks – Fairtrade at St. Michael’s Oxford

We are delighted to feature here a great article written by Feng Ho, Artist in Residence at BAFTS’ shop, Fairtrade at St. Michael’s What an amazing way she has chosen of depicting some of the huge variety of fairly-traded products which are now available through these pieces of art. The “Fairtrade Wonderland”, part of the Artweeks exhibition, is running until the end of May. A shortened version of the below article can also be found online on the Oxford Mail website. The full list of products used in all 8 images (see Gallery) can be found here: Artweeks Labels 2015

Oxford Skyline

Oxford Skyline

Fairtrade Wonderland   Oxford Fairtrade Shop Artweeks Exhibition 

1st – 30th May 2015. Artweeks venue 205.

Fairtrade at St Michaels, St Michael at the North Gate, Cornmarket St, Oxford OX1 3EY  Open Mon – Sat 10 – 5pm

‘There’s more to fair trade than bananas, I’m astounded by the range & variety that Fair Trade has to offer’ Feng Ho, Fairtrade at St Michaels’ Artist In Residence.

For Artweeks 2015, Fairtrade at St Michaels will showcase photographs using fair trade products found within the shop. The images on display include a pair of rowing elephants, and a city skyline that has been recreated using stationery & soap!

Magdalen Bridge Oxford

Magdalen Bridge Oxford

On the creation process, Feng Ho says ‘These images were set up on my bedroom floor during my toddler’s nap time. I was in part inspired by scenes of Oxford – the dreaming spires, the Cotswolds, and rowers on the Thames. After raiding the shop’s extensive range of fair trade items, I would play around with different compositions.’

‘The depiction of a university city is apt given the opportunity for a better education allowed by the fair trade premium.  Most of us may feel disconnected from poverty and inequality, but that shouldn’t stop us from helping those in need through supporting fair trade.’

76 different suppliers from around the world provide Fairtrade at St Michael’s diverse range of products – from quirky ornaments to functional homeware, stationery to skincare, artisan jewellery to children’s toys and clothing, plus an extensive range of food.

About the images

City Skyline was made from: Bamboo rulers, bamboo and woven coasters, mango wood pencil pots, recycled newspaper pencils, wooden fans, wooden flute, money scrolls, olive oil soap, birthday candles, metal bell, Fair break chocolate bars, Divine chocolate, chocolate beanies, and nodding elephant. What products can you find in the pictures entitled “Magdalen Bridge”, “Cotswolds” and “River Thames”? Chocolate, knickers, glass, wooden spoons, raffia, jewellery boxes, gardening gloves, Geobars, biscuits, toiletry bag, dates, freekeh, scarves..the list is seemingly endless!

River Thames

River Thames



Posted in Fair Trade

Nepal earthquake tragedy

“Hundreds of thousands of people have suddenly been left without adequate food, water, shelter and medical care. They are understandably desperate. We need to act fast.” – Jane Cocking, Oxfam Humanitarian Director.

It is six days now since a devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck in Nepal near the capital city of Kathmandu; the worst to be experienced there for 80 years. More than 6,000 people have been killed, 14,000 injured, and billions of properties destroyed to rubble. Sadly, one or two of our own supplier members have lost or fear having lost producers and staff, and we are deeply saddened to hear this tragic news. We understand that some remote outlying villages cannot be reached, so figures could be much higher than this. Up to 90% of clinics and schools in some districts are also rendered unusable.

According to Jason Burke (The Guardian 1.5.2015) “three thousand people are still unaccounted for in the Sindhupalchowk district, and little is known about northern areas of the Gorkha district where about 10,000 live. Local officials fear widespread destruction.” It is estimated that at least $2bn will be needed to rebuild homes, hospitals, government offices and historic buildings.

Picking through the rubble in Kathmandu, image courtesy of Liam Kelly

Picking through the rubble in Kathmandu, image courtesy of Liam Kelly

The Esther Benjamin Trust whose CEO Ian Kerr will be speaking at our Annual Conference in a few weeks, reports on their own efforts to reach children formerly in their care:

“Our staff are urgently trying to reach the 500 children that we earlier reunited with their families in Makwanpur district, to check they are safe. We are providing emergency help to 800 people in the remote village of Bharta, who have been made homeless by the earthquake. As more funds come in, we will extend our emergency efforts to other villages in extreme need. All 30 young adults on our youth programme in Kathmandu have been traced and are safe.”

It seems like aid is very slow to get through, is patchy, and some reports suggest that the Nepalese government’s bureaucracy in how the aid is distributed is not helping. StoptheTraffik also suggest that earthquake victims could be at risk of trafficking, as they wait for aid to come, and shelter against the elements. Thankfully, some of our members who work with suppliers in Nepal have acted promptly, and our “Member Resources” page lists many ways through which donations can be channelled. And there are glimmers of hope as a baby and a teenager have been pulled from the rubble days after the tragedy occurred.

However, it could take many painful months and years for the country to begin to recover. Let us hope that the aid starts moving quicker to provide shelter, water, food and medicines to the many many needy souls before disease takes hold.

Posted in Fair Trade

Running for glory..or to escape poverty? Why Kenyans (and Ethiopians) are such good Marathon Runners

It can’t have escaped your notice that the London Marathon took place yesterday; nor did it probably surprise you that the first three male runners home were all Kenyan: Eliud Kipchoge beat twice-winner Wilson Kipsang (2:o4:47) to the top spot by five seconds (2:04:42), and Dennis Kimetto followed soon after (2:05:50). Surprisingly, an Ethiopian female (as opposed to a Kenyan) won this year – Tigist Tufa in 2:23:22, comfortably beating Kenya’s two-time London winner Mary Keitany. Several reasons have been cited for both Kenyan and Ethiopian successes in running, but the real reason for their motivation is plain: to escape a life of grinding poverty.

Enthusiastic young runners at Iten, Kenya

Both Kenya and Ethiopia have plentiful running training camps for youngsters, set at 8-10,000 feet above sea level. Some say that the children who are fortunate to go to school in these countries often run there and back barefoot, which might help their natural gait. Certainly, training at very high altitude makes running much easier when competing at low altitude. A runner’s lungs have got used to performing well on air thin in oxygen. But many articles written around the time of the Olympic Games in London 2012 suggest that youngsters in both countries run simply because it could mean a better life for them. If they become champions (and it is one huge “IF”, as competition is fierce) they can help their family, friends and tribe financially. If, as most are, they are born into very poor families, excelling at running can mean big prize monies – the winners of this year’s London Marathon will get US $55,000 each (about £36,000). One article suggested that the average per capita income of a Kenyan is around US $2,000 (about £1300). Think how many mouths that would feed and for how long….

46% of Kenyans live below the poverty line. In Ethiopia, around 30% live in extreme poverty. With expectations and pressures from both family and community high, youngsters run to try and fulfil their dreams by excelling at training and getting good enough grades (if they are not too exhausted to fall behind with studies) to get an escape route out for eg a scholarship at an American University, and continued training as speedy athletes with an income. Both countries’ economies are dominated by less-than-reliable annual yields from agriculture – tea, coffee, wheat, corn, cereals and sugar cane – so becoming a successful international runner means earning enough to support families back home. This year’s female Ethiopian winner, Tigist Tufa, said something similar today: (London Marathon website)

“I want to help my immediate family financially, in different ways. There are also some children I know I would like to help financially. Then I’d like to buy a car as I don’t have one yet.”

In an article written by Claudia Hammond (BBC Magazine, Iten, 28/4/2012) entitled: Kenya’s Rift Valley, where everyone runs she wrote:

“In fact one athlete told me that the motivation to run your way out of poverty is so strong, that if Kenya were to become a rich country he believed it would stop producing such fast runners.”

Unfortunately, in both Kenya and Ethiopia, many talented runners will never earn a single penny from their running and if schooling has fallen behind – assuming they were attending in the first place – they are back to square one.


A variety of Kenyan soapstone products

Thankfully, there are other ways of helping Kenyans and Ethiopians – and many more peoples from developing countries – to work their way out of poverty, by buying Fairtrade products from one of our BAFTS’ shops, located under “Member locations” on the map feature on this website, or listed on the “Resources” page. Kenya is fortunate enough to be home to beautiful Kisii soapstone, named after the Kisii tribe of Tabaka Hills in Western Kenya. It is often exported due to its excellent craftsmanship,  smooth texture and evocative African designs of wildlife and natural landscapes.

Ethiopia is sometimes referred to as the “Birthplace of Coffee”, producing such quality blends as Sidamo and Yirgacheffe (remember the subject matter of the 2006 film “Black Gold” http://blackgoldmovie.com/ where Tadesse Meskela fought to save his 74,000 struggling coffee farmers from bankruptcy, in an effort to gain a better price for some of the highest quality coffee beans on the international market? Well, his coffee farmers were Ethiopian). Sidamo is a major coffee growing region in southern Ethiopia, and Yirgacheffe is a small sub-region centered around a village of the same name. Ethiopian Yirgacheffes are spicy and fragrant and often rate as some of the best in the world. You could do a lot worse than buy these Fairtrade Ground Coffees.

So, next time you see Kenyan or Ethiopian runners winning high-profile International races, don’t be surprised, but remember the majority who don’t get successful and think about a Fairtrade purchase to give them a better deal too.

Posted in Fair Trade

Two years after Rana Plaza: reflections and actions

On 24 April 2013, 1133 people died when an unsafe garment factory building collapsed in the Rana Plaza complex in Dhaka, Bangladesh. A further 2500 were injured. They were killed while working for familiar fashion brands in one of the many ‘accidents’ that plague the garment industry, in its pursuit of throwaway fashion with a low (monetary) price tag, but with an indelible, dreadfully high cost in human lives. According to reports from the time, workers were already afraid to enter, because cracks had been seen in the building structure, but were told by their bosses that they had to go to work.

This Friday, two years on, social media and campaign websites, especially those from http://fashionrevolution.org/ are prompting followers to remember the victims of Rana Plaza by asking: #WhoMadeMyClothes? BAFTS members have to show transparency in their supply chains, in accordance with the World Fair Trade Organisation Ten Principles of Fair Trade http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade which embody such criteria as “Ensuring Good Working Conditions”, “Respect for the Environment” and “Transparency and Accountability”. It isn’t rocket science to work out that, if more companies embraced fair trade principles, such disasters would likely be reduced.


Image from Fashion revolution website showing garment workers who make our clothes

But how much noise is actually being made in the everyday world, beyond committed ethical, fair trade brands, organisations, campaigners and supporters? It is fine to upload a selfie of clothes “inside-out” with the ubiquitous hashtag #WhoMadeMyClothes? But does that really translate into tangible action and different purchasing habits from ordinary shoppers in the high street? Would waving a banner in discount fashion stores have any more effect? I worry that in a week’s time all will be forgotten.  Again.

The Fashion Revolution website (hyperlink above in the first paragraph) states:

“The true cost of the current fashion business model must not be forgotten: complacency and distraction means unless we stamp our resolve here and now, incidents such as Rana Plaza will be dismissed as an unfortunate reality of contemporary life.

We must not allow that to happen.

We want to use the power of fashion to inspire a permanent change in the fashion industry and reconnect the broken links in the supply chain. At the moment of purchase, most of us are unaware of the processes and impacts involved in the creation of a garment. We need to reconnect through a positive narrative, to understand that we aren’t just purchasing a garment or accessory, but a whole chain of value and relationships.”

Jo Salter, owner of the very aptly-named company “Where Does It Come From?” runs a fair trade fashion company producing kids’ clothes. She posted a blog a few days’ ago http://www.wheredoesitcomefrom.co.uk/fashion-revolution-24-april-2015-encouraging-children-ask-made-clothes/ which sums up one very positive, ground roots approach: make sure our own children learn early to value clothes and ask questions about who made them and in what conditions.

So, education is the key; we need to educate consumers: the younger, the better. As campaigners for trade justice we can best influence consumers by showing them the real cost of their “bargain” purchases. “The True Cost” http://truecostmovie.com/ is a new cutting edge documentary directed by internationally recognised LA Director Andrew Morgan. Featuring interviews with leading fashion commentators including Stella McCartney, Livia Firth and Vandana Shiva the documentary explores the often unseen impact of fashion on people and planet, and again poses the question, who really pays for my clothing?

“For too long now, we have failed to face the growing cost to both human beings, as well as the health of this planet that we call home. The film is this invitation to each of us and all of us to look past just the price tag, and begin acknowledging the many hearts and hands behind the things we wear.” Andrew Morgan, Director “The True Cost”


Boys seek missing relatives after Rana Plaza disaster. The image which caused Andrew Morgan to reflect on the real cost of our clothes

“The True Cost” will be in select cinemas on Friday 29 May, as well as a worldwide on-line viewing party. The film will be translated into multiple languages, and will be available to rent or buy from the website. I for one have a note in my diary and await the film eagerly.

We need to get into the habit of checking where and how the clothes in shops are made. That way, we are preparing the next generation to keep the pressure for change alive. In the meantime, it is up to us. Whether your purchase is “worth it” depends on more than just the price.

Posted in Fair Trade
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