"It makes me happy when I interact with fellow members of our cooperative and see visible results of basket weaving in their lives – one member is able to purchase medicine for her child, another can afford a new dress, and more are able to educate their children and feed and clothe their families" 

Dorcas Ndinda, Chairlady of Kenyan Weaving Cooperative

With Fairtrade Fortnight in full swing and as consumers become ever more conscientious in their shopping habits, we thought we’d take a moment to talk about The Basket Room’s commitment to supporting Fair Trade.

But first, what does Fairtrade really mean?

Fairtrade is a global movement campaigning for better prices, decent working conditions, and fair terms of trade for Third World workers. Fairtrade certification (that green and blue logo we’re all familiar with) is largely applied to consumables at the moment – things like coffee, tea and chocolate - but the Fairtrade certification body is also looking to expand to the world of crafts, which is great news for us! Certification is a process which inspects not only the end product (your jar of organic, Fairtrade coffee) but also its entire supply chain. Fair trade must be maintained at every step of the process or it simply doesn’t get the label.

As further proof that Fairtrade is changing the face of consumerism, a new craft-based labelling and monitoring system has been developed at the World Fair Trade Organisation. We’re following its progress closely and can’t wait to apply for this official seal of approval and fly the flag for Fairtrade. In the meantime, however, we’re privileged to see the principles of Fair trade in action every day as we do business with weaving cooperatives in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda and Swaziland.

So who are the weavers?

The weavers are our life force: the beautiful, beating hearts of The Basket Room and the raw talent and passion behind every hand woven basket we sell.  Working within a cooperative, these craftswomen (for the vast majority of weavers are ladies) benefit from all sorts of job security that alternative lines of work – like farming – simply cannot deliver.

Where agricultural work is the foundation of most weavers’ family incomes, unpredictable rainfall makes for uneasy living. Basket weaving within a cooperative offers women the chance to earn a supplementary income, a fair and guaranteed wage which is negotiated in advance, and the opportunity to determine one’s own workload. In essence, belonging to a weaving cooperative gives women the opportunity to support their families with reliable yet flexible work which is then paid for promptly and fairly.

Proceeds from weaving helped educate my children. I am now able to clothe and feed myself and my family from the income from weaving. Sometimes I find that I even have money left over, which I save or invest in my grocery business.

Dorcas Ndinda, Chairlady of Kenyan Weaving Cooperative

This is one of the most profound beauties of our woven baskets: the positive stories they tell and the places they have been. Basket weaving is work that can be taken with you virtually anywhere. It’s sociable and portable. Our weavers needn’t surrender their other responsibilities when they join a basket weaving group. Agricultural work can still be done in the morning, the children can be sent off to school and lunch can be prepared, and a little bit of weaving can be done here and there, on the way to the well to draw water, en route to the shops and whilst sitting in church on a Sunday. The unhurried art of weaving happens as women sit and talk, at community gatherings and family events. Some cooperatives meet more officially to weave together in a friendly, workshop-style; others simply congregate once a week to negotiate orders, returning the following week to deliver their creations.

How does The Basket Room practise fair trade principles with their partner weaving cooperatives?

Each cooperative is run democratically, voting in a chairlady, a secretary and a treasurer. When we propose a new woven basket design, the weaving group will get together and discuss everything from the materials required to the level of skill and the time it will take to produce the new baskets. The cooperative then comes up with the price they wish to charge us per basket, and if we need some movement on that price we negotiate and essentially the cooperative gets to decide the terms. All cooperative leaders have been government-trained in business practices and will always say no if the price is not right for the group.

The Basket Room pays the cooperative a 50% deposit at the time of placing a basket order, so that the committee can purchase all the materials and dyes they need to produce that order. Deadlines are discussed between us and the committee. If the proposed deadline looks difficult to meet, we either agree to reduce the order or move the deadline – it’s all about negotiation and clear communication.

We supply the cooperatives with all the training they may need and the equipment they require to do their work: from scissors and tape measures to dye drums. Cooperatives’ profits are reinvested for the benefit of the group as a business: some groups have purchased solar lighting so that weavers can work into the evening if they wish to; others have used their profits to purchase land for building village community centres on.

So in keeping with the driving principles of Fair trade, working conditions within the weaving cooperatives promote independence: weavers are empowered to make their own decisions, to exercise more control over their futures, and to protect the livelihood of their families. Dignity is woven into every basket we sell. Each laundry hamper tells a story of self-sufficiency; our bike baskets are bright symbols of progress.

We thank you from the bottom of our hearts for supporting sustainable working conditions and empowering communities to take greater control of their earnings and their livelihoods - every time you buy a woven basket from us. Click here to find out more about the Fairtrade Foundation and the World Fair Trade Organisation.

Happy Fairtrade Fortnight and happy, ethical, shopping!

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