Make a list of everything you can buy today with one dollar. It’s a short list, isn’t it? Yet more than 3 billion people in the world exist on less than a dollar a day.
Two mothers were so concerned by this reality they created Global Goods Partners—a nonprofit organization that ensures income from goods made in the developing world is received directly by those who produced them. Their model is unique, as it gives women from disadvantaged regions access to new markets through school fundraising programs in the United States. Their merchandise—mainly handcrafted jewelry and clothing—is sold by students to generate school funds and help raise awareness of the challenges facing these disadvantaged communities.
In traditional commerce, the return to laborers for the manufacture of jewelry, clothing, and accessories is minimal, with economic rewards going directly to the owners of local factories, importers, wholesalers, and international corporations. Fair trade practices, in contrast, can ensure that women’s work is properly valued and rewarded so they are paid justly for their contribution to the production process. It creates entrepreneurial opportunities for less-favored producers, especially indigenous women, and protects young girls and boys from being exploited. Fair Trade is a pragmatic approach to reducing poverty and improving the living conditions of people worldwide, particularly women and children.
Joan Shifrin and Catherine Shimony of Global Goods Partners in New York City are creating an innovative fair trade model by working closely with craftswomen and their communities, traveling to their villages, and spending days talking and learning from them so they can assist with unmet needs and find the right markets for their products. These two mothers are bridging worlds; giving support to women globally, while providing educational opportunities to students back home.
When Joan became a mother, she found herself thinking more about other caretakers globally and how most want the same basic things for their children: education, safety, and a chance to succeed. She knew when you empower a woman in the labor force, it directly benefits her children’s quality of life and ultimately society as a whole. “When you invest in women through fair trade practices, you’re investing not only in the family, but the community and the country,” says Joan.
For years, Joan and Catherine worked with humanitarian aid and grant-making organizations, and during their travels they noticed women were making beautiful products, yet having a very challenging time selling them. They also noticed that no one was really looking at these women’s livelihoods from a personal, human perspective. As Catherine describes it, “the production of beautiful handcrafted products incorporated their culture, their country, and also traditions that were passed down from mothers to daughters. We thought it be great if we could tap into this craft supply in marginalized communities and bring them to the U.S. market, while at the same time provide education to consumers through the schools—reaching out to students and educators and encouraging them to start thinking about the concepts of fair trade and working conditions in the developing world and how they could play more of an active role.
Their vision became a reality in 2005. Since then, Global Goods Partners has been dedicated to alleviating poverty and promoting social justice by strengthening women-led development initiatives for communities in Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Their partners are primarily women artisans and craftworkers in countries such as Afghanistan, South Africa, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan. A majority of these women are mothers trying to support their families.
In Swaziland, for example, women are weaving grass that is of no use to others. The animals don’t eat it, so they weave it and make elaborate, colorful baskets and coasters. The income they earn through fair trade is raising their standard of living from a dollar a day, to being able to adequately feed their children and themselves.
At a woman’s cooperative in Bolivia, mothers are making hand-painted ceramic animal figures. On their premises they have a kindergarten, something the mothers together decided to create with their profits as their priority was to have their young children close by so when orders came in and they needed to work longer hours, they could have a safe place for their children and a place where they would be educated.
These are just a few examples of the type of fair trade partners Global Goods Partners works with—women who are not only earning an income, but also taking an active role in improving the lives of their families. As Catherine shared with me, “These women have such pride in the products they make, and knowing they are appreciated and worn or displayed in homes of women in another country very far away truly changes their lives in many ways, even beyond the financial.” As more fair trade businesses like Global Goods Partners thrive, so do the lives of women and children.