Chapter 26: Fair trade and artisans
‘Our hands are our future’ conveys artisans’ hopes to secure sustainable markets for their handcrafts. When asked what they needed most, artisans respond, ‘more work so we can give our children a better life’. Together these statements express artisans’ dreams and apprehension as they enter a global marketplace where their handmade products must compete with inexpensive manufactured goods. Artisans draw on their technical expertise, aesthetic norms and design languages to create objects of great beauty and practical use – textiles, ceramics, baskets, wood items and metal ware. In this chapter I examine how artisans’ cultural heritage fares under the artisan sector of the fair trade model. Maureen Liebl and Tirthankar Roy (2004, 67), long-time participants in craft development, concluded that no traditional craft skill can survive unless it has a viable market. Does the fair trade market offer hope to artisans for generating sustainable income and for reaching their social goals in a world of globalization? In the first section, I describe the context in which fair trade artisans work and explain the challenges they face. In the second section, I present two case studies that illuminate how fair trade artisan groups are tackling these challenges and achieving desired trade and socio-economic benefits. One case offers insight into how a 28-year-old fair trade organization flexibly evolved into a high-impact enterprise, while working within the cultural context of artisans’ daily lives.
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