May 31, 2018

How a Small Gesture Can Make a Huge Impact: Supporting Ethically Made Goods

By Jordan Lewis
How a Small Gesture Can Make a Huge Impact: Supporting Ethically Made Goods

In a small village in Northern India, under a corrugated tin roof, a small engine is running hard. It powers a belt, that, due to clever engineering, somehow turns four individual lathes. Men from the village crowd into the space, many from lower castes or with physical disabilities, waiting their turn to sit cross legged at a work space and use the knowledge passed down for generations to produce fine woodwork to sell, in order to sustain their families. Because hardwood and talented artisans are plentiful, local markets are flooded, and the village families who might have a little to spend can’t afford or don’t need the beautiful wooden toys, bowls and decorative items available for sale. City markets offer the possibility of better profit, but also include crushing travel expenses and higher cost of living. Yet these men continue to produce these goods, not knowing any other way to survive. 

A few miles away, a group of Indian women gather in a similar workspace, often with infants strapped closely to them and toddlers wandering about; just as often, the older children are working, also. They are weaving, embroidering and dying vibrantly colored scarves, sarongs and blankets, all by hand. Painstaking attention to detail and minutiae works their fingers to the bone, and, due to low literacy rates, they rely on an external supervisor to monitor inventory and allocate payment for their work. Because the group relies on a certain quantity of goods to reach their quota, women who fall short due to illness or another family crisis may simply not get paid. Factory jobs in the city are sometimes available, but this usually involves excessively long hours in unsafe conditions.

There are stories like this from all around the world. Matching these incredible handmade goods with appreciative consumers is ideal, but there are clearly many obstacles in the way. However, with ethical sourcing and fair-trade guidelines being instituted more and more, one can start to see the way in which individual steps can combine to leave these talented artisans much better off. Using the above scenarios, let’s see what can be done.

  • Worldwide access: With philanthropic groups finding these artisans and giving them the ability to sell their goods anywhere in the world, they can ultimately be paid a fair (or even premium) price for their products, and not worry about slashing profits to compete in a crowded local market. Additional revenue can purchase better tools and workplaces, which can ramp up productivity.
  • Education: Raising literacy rates can empower these men and women to represent their own interests, do their own bookkeeping, and learn additional skills to better their situation. Better work conditions and increased productivity can allow the children to attend school, instead of working to support the family.
  • Workplace stability: Steady production and more balanced incomes allows artisans to be paid by the item, instead of racing to meet a quota. So, a woman who is caring for a sick child could still work, albeit on a limited scale, and still receive payment for what she was able to do.
  • Improved Conditions: Watchdog groups can inspect and regulate workplace conditions, so even the densest urban factories can be a place to work safely.

 These are just a few examples of how supporting ethically sourced goods can make an enormous impact on thousands of workers and their families. Stay tuned to discover other ways you can make a difference.

What are your thoughts on supporting ethically sourced brands? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.