The munnharpe by Bjørgulv Straume

The last week in Holland was Fair Trade week. An initiative of Fair Trade Original, de Landelijke Vereniging van Wereldwinkels and Stichting Max Havelaar. Goal of the week was that people actively start changing the things they buy and become more aware of the many different fair trade products available in their daily lives.

What is fair trade? It basically means that the product was obtained and brought to the customer on a reciprocal basis of open dialogue, transparency of transactions and respect between trading partners. In the fair-trade chain partners vow to maintain and promote safe and healthy working conditions, freedom of union, non-extortion of children, non-discrimination and to increase equality between sexes. It also means creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers and payment of a fair price.

When can one say that a bought product was fair trade? It’s a tricky thing, fair trade. What one person might perceive as fair, an other might not. For this reason there are fairtrade-certificates that can be applied if a product has met a number of requirements. This is the case with the Max-Havelaar certificate in Holland for instance. This certificate falls under the international Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO), which has its own Fairtrade Certification Mark. Their logo is an independent guarantee that disadvantaged producers in the developing world are getting a better deal.

So far so good! However, the guarantee can only be given to a number of products. See the list of FLO. Unfortunately there is no certificate labelling available for arts and handicrafts. The reason for this is that it is very difficult and expensive to judge whether a manufacturing process was completely fair. In Holland, Fair Trade Original is a brand that does the utmost to make sure that their handicraft-products are produced fair. Their logo is normally a good indicator of fair trade, because they monitor workshops in the developing countries. A guarantee, however, can not be given and monitoring costs are high.

Question is whether a certificate for handicraft necessarily is a good thing. First of all certifying is expensive. To prove that a product is fair trade, the production process must be closely monitored. Secondly, one has to know the right channels to get certified. It can be imagined that independent entrepreneurs find it hard to leverage funds for necessary consultations and don’t have the time to research the formalities of the certification process themselves. It is most easily done with the help of western investors and when local entrepreneurs group together in a craft union. Especially for artists and people that make handicrafts, this is problematic.

These considerations all play an important part in this project. How can I (and any other traveller for that matter) ensure that a talented artists meets the fair trade requirements? How can we get to a sustainable relationship between customer(s) and producer? Of course, only helping the artist to an international market for 4 days is not fair trade-proof. However, the goal is that the artists will have a small international market-research and learn to use the potential of internet so that they can present themselves on this portal in the future. Trust is still the key issue and for this reason I have a number of requirements for an artist to participate:

– The product is either art or handicraft (no food);
– The product must be hand-made (no automated machinery);
– The product is made in a way that is not harmful for the environment;
– The product is made in a way that is not harmful for the health of the artist;
– The material of the product is sustainable;
– The product must be made by the filmed artist;
– The making process must be visible in the video;
– The price must be reasonable and transparent.

Please share your opinion about fair trade for arts and handicrafts in the comments below.