As the world economy limps and prods it’s way through various obstacles and whirlwinds, the focus has entirely shifted to consumers in the west. What we choose to buy shapes the lives of people on the other side of the world, be it food, clothes or other essential accessories. But it seems we have lost touch with the very people who allows us to have a relatively comfortable lifestyle. So bringing their stories to our doorsteps might encourage more people to make those vitally critical decisions and reward the third world producers with a basic standard of living, which most citizens here take for granted.
EMA(Equitable Marketing Association) is a Fair Trade producer group comprising of artisans, farmers, weavers for whom survival is an ongoing battle.They are based in a little village in the outskirts of Kolkata, India exporting handicrafts to the UK, Germany and New Zealand. EMA was established 33 years ago in response to the demands and basic requirements of local artisans and farmers alike, who were looking for longer term job security and an income top up during the lean agricultural season.
The organization started on a fairly traded principle which was quite a liberating idea in India, considering that Europe was just beginning to understand the rationale of fairness in trade, especially international sourcing. The advent of Traidcraft in the early 80’s was a momentous occasion in terms of publicity of Fair Trade, principally in the non groceries market, which energised a lot of ethical suppliers. One of them was a cooperative called EMA which started with only 10 members but currently
expanded to 80 odd members and involving 200 families.
EMA specializes in various fields, like scarves, musical instruments, candles and wooden items. But the primary focus is on leather bags and purses which are made with the highest precision and care. Raw leather are sourced from animal husbandry. The finished leather is tanned with ingredients found in vegetable matters and tree bark. The hides of dead animals are a gift of nature and are used mostly to make their range of leather bags which are exported to Germany, the biggest fair trade market in Europe.
Primarily wooden products were made from Sheesham wood found in the north of India. But recent environmental concerns lead EMA to take a more earth friendly approach. They have been using Eucalyptus and Bamboo which are available locally, and the trees have a shorter term of maturity. This means that the trees which are cut can be replaced within 5 to 6 years, which helps to preserve the ecosystem and forestry. Keeping our biodiversity intact is equally important as making a living out of trade.
EMA is situated over a 3 hectares of land. 25% of the area are reserved for a water body which are utilized for organic pisciculture. Fruit trees and vegetable bushes are a major part of the surroundings. Rampant commercialization hasn’t taken a foothold on the pristine landscape of the village which in turn helped the locals to maintain better health and higher standard of living.
One section of the set-up is dedicated to artisans who are physically challenged. This enables empowerment to people who otherwise will remain unemployed which can result abject poverty. Disabilty laws are weak in India and there is no incentive whatsoever from mainstream businesses to employ them.
A big part of the workforce comes from the minority communities and women which result in better social cohesion.
But the challenge remains. The world is changing at a faster pace as anyone can imagine and small ethical businesses are up against it. The resources are scarce and profits are dwindling. But it is still morally right to support fair trade which tries to do good to all concerned.