What Is Fair Trade?

Originally coined as a term to be used for products like coffee, cocoa, bananas, and other commodity agricultural products, fair trade has grown to include other non-farmed items such as crafts and handiworks. Many people now recognize the term as meaning ethically produced products.

Fair trade bananas  Image by Lily CC license

Fair trade bananas  Image by Lily CC license

We are slowly leaving an age of mass production in facilities where company profits are the only success indicator and driver of business decisions, and entering one where we care who makes our clothing and accessories and if they earn enough money to be able to eat and care for their children. Trade done fairly is something people think about now more than ever when deciding what to buy, and we think that's not only good for the the people involved but good for business too.

9 Fair Trade Principles

There are nine official fair trade principles that companies like Mazuri Designs are mindful of and strive to achieve. Below are our interpretations.

1) Create Work for People Who are Overlooked Socially and Economically
Fair Trade is a business model for easing financial poverty and its associated hardships, by way of development that can be sustainably maintained, meaning that it must be profitable for all involved. Companies that are fair trade support social and economic opportunities through employing marginalized groups of people. They place the interests of producers and their communities as part of their business goal, unlike traditional solely profit-driven companies whose drive for profit over all else guides their decisions.

FAIR TRADE = PEOPLE + PROFITS

2) Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
Fair Trade involves relationships that are open, fair, consistent, and respectful. Companies are mindful of both their customers and artisans by sharing information about the entire trading chain through honest and proactive communication. They create ways for all to be involved, from artisan to customer, so that every individual can feel connected to how the products come into creation and arrive in the homes of people who buy them. How it's made matters.

3) Empower Employees
Fair trade is a way to create an independent, skilled workforce that can stay with the business or go off to create their own businesses with their new skills. Companies build artisans’ capacity by providing access to information about best practices, financial, technical and market information as well as by communicating proactively and encouraging dialogue. They don’t just employ workers; they empower employees to develop skills and understand how businesses operate. 

4) Promote It!
Sharing is caring, so companies involved in Fair Trade practices should ensure their artisans have an understanding of what their participation at a global scale means – increased access to consumers and opportunities to share their stories and handicrafts with populations that may never have heard of their hometowns or countries. Companies should strive to be examples of how trade can be a positive force in all ways for the producers and communities they impact. It also enables companies to share their story of how they not only ethically source their products, but how they are able to do make profit at the same time. For a fair trade business to thrive and expand its reach, it needs to make a profit to re-invest in its operations and the people driving its growth.

Fair trade is good for everything involved, people, planet, and profits Image by Kevin Dooley CC license

Fair trade is good for everything involved, people, planet, and profits Image by Kevin Dooley CC license

5) Payment
Often times producers of products receive change (literally) compared to the amount large corporations profit from their work. Fair trade principles ensure producers receive a larger percentage of the sale price for their products, they are paid a fair wage or fee in a local context, and they are paid promptly. Fair pay ensures the time spent producing items for sale results in wages that are sufficient for employees to live healthy lives and save for their and their children's futures. Artisans must be fairly paid regardless of gender, class, race, nationality, etc.

6) Support Safe and Empowering Operating Conditions
Fair Trade ensures that workers have a safe and healthy working environment. Discrimination of all kinds is absent from the environment and no abuse or harassment of any kind is tolerated. Those involved in the trading chain are encouraged to participate in decisions that affect them without fear of reprimand.

7) Honor the Rights of Children
Chi
ldren’s rights include the right to play, education and security. Companies that comply with fair trade principles do not participate in child trafficking or harmful child labor.

8) Be Kind to the Planet
Fair trade minded organizations actively consider the impact of their business decisions on the environment and promote the responsible use of resources.

Fair trade considers environmental impact  Image by HearkenCreative CC license

Fair trade considers environmental impact  Image by HearkenCreative CC license

9) Respect for Cultural Identity
Cultural identity must be sustainably preserved to celebrate the diversity of world communities. Fair trade organizations are mindful of indigenous traditions and production techniques. They must walk the line of preserving cultural heritage and also incorporating it into a sustainable modern way of doing business.

Is Mazuri Fair Trade Fashion?

As a brand new business with our online shop opened in February 2016, we are not yet a fair trade certified company. The process to become fair trade certified requires time and funding, but over the next couple of years we intend to apply for certification. In the meantime, Mazuri is operating as a fair trade company, following the above fair trade principles:  

  • Our workshop is a very safe workplace. In the Luzira slum of Kampala where we work, we have electricity, a clean flush toilet with running water to wash hands, and a full-time security guard on premises to ensure the safety of our women.
  • Mazuri provides the sewing machines and other tools and materials needed to perform the work our women do to create items for local and international sales. 
Foot pedaled sewing machine at the Mazuri workshop

Foot pedaled sewing machine at the Mazuri workshop

  • Product pricing includes a percentage of the profit allocated to fund training for young women in sewing and tailoring so that they can build the skill set to become future employees of Mazuri and/or start their own seamstress businesses in their communities. 
  • We design and produce items with the remaining fabric after making clothing from 6 yard pieces of fabrics. Recycling is vital to reducing the affects of climate change and maintaining a clean planet. It also looks great on you in the form of our bags, wallets, earrings and hair accessories.
  • Mazuri incorporates the cultural heritage of Uganda by using the bold color designs of the cotton, java, batik and dutch wax fabrics common to the area.

At Mazuri we believe in providing an environment for healthy, safe, profitable work through the design and creation of fashion. Where planet, producers, products and people all play purposeful roles in creating the self-empowerment our workshop supports.

For more information on this topic we encourage you to visit the Fair Trade Federation's official site.