My Struggles with Fair Trade

A message from Manish

On our recent trip to India, I was motivated by seeing the change we can make. 

On our recent trip to India, I was motivated by seeing the change we can make. 

Last month was World Fair Trade Month, and now that it’s over we mustn’t forget to stay fixed on Fair Trade principles and keep striving to meet them. When I look back on my journey in Fair Trade over the last 10 years, I think about all we’ve accomplished and overcome — this keeps me going.

I want to share with you these struggles as a way of going deeper into the topic of Fair Trade. The list can get long so I will keep it brief here:

The pursuit for perfect fair trade

Fair Trade is a big commitment, encompassing big principles like Fair Labor practices, environmental stewardship, children's rights, etc. In today's complex supply chain, trying to make sure that we are living up to each of these principles for the over 40 different supply chains we have is a daunting task. Every time we dig deeper into a product's supply chain we find challenges. For example, when we went to a third party contractor for our jewelry artisans that does metal etching, we found artisans were being exposed to chemical fumes. It took our India team, SETU, a year of work to set a new and safe process in place but it can feel like our work is never ending. Will we ever have a 100% fairly traded product?

Leaving some artisans behind

A number of artisans we started working with, especially some rural communities with great need for trade partnerships, turn out to be artisan communities where creating marketable products is most challenging. Though our product design team puts in extra effort to design products for these "at risk" artisans, sometimes we are not able to offer continuous employment to them. With our commitment to long term partnerships and our love for these communities, it feels like a failure to me.

Values vs Value proposition

All the social impact we create is based on economic sustainability for the artisan communities. Our goal therefore is a maximize product sales so we can give more business to artisans. One of the challenges we face in growing sales in the western market is lack of consumer awareness during purchasing.  Almost everyone I know will agree that they do not support child labor, yet only a small fraction of those consumers ensure that the products they are buying do not support child labor practices. If our Values are missing from a purely value based purchasing decision, sustainable products do not stand a chance. In this time of technology and awareness, it seems like we are too slow to change our buying pattern as a society.

If we can improve the lives of even a few people, we consider that a win.

Do issues like these bring me down? At times it does but most times no. For me Fair Trade is way of working and not a time-defined end goal. It is a way of working with the mindset of continuous improvement for people and our planet through trade. We keep going deeper one step at time and keep making a difference. We are not perfect but we are proud that we stay committed to our mission and we celebrate every little positive change we make. 

The fact that we were able to save 4 to 5 artisans from being exposed to chemical fumes everyday in the metal etching plant is a big deal. I am proud of that, and this is my motivation to keep going. What is yours?

As the writer of this blog series, I want to express my gratitude to our audience for taking the time to go deeper with me into Fair Trade and for sharing your appreciation. I would like to hear more from you about what specific areas you would like me to discuss in future. I also welcome dialog around these pieces through FacebookTwitter, blog comments or even email ( Our different perspectives make us stronger. All one All Kin.