Interview with International Resources for Fairer Trade

November 7, 2009

IRFT is a close partner and ally of Shop for Change.  We sit down with IRFT’s CEO, Gaynor Pais, to ask her a few questions about IRFT and its work on fair trade in India. IRFT_logo

Can you give us a brief overview of IRFT?
International Resources for Fairer Trade is a not for profit organisation dedicated to empowering small NGOs representing farmers, artisans, and craftsmen to develop business capacity and promote sustainable livelihoods. IRFT has been working at the intersection of business and development in India for almost 15 years, allowing producers an opportunity to access mainstream markets.

Fairness along the supply chain from producer to consumer is a passion that emerges from the core of IRFT values.  We promote and represent fair and ethical standards that uphold the rights of the worker, producer, and consumer, ensuring him or her a sustainable livelihood and freedom from the cycle of poverty.

What is IRFT’s key work regarding Fair Trade in India?
Since its inception, IRFT has been at the helm of promoting the concept of fair trade.  Presently IRFT is working with various potential stakeholders to build a grassroots demand for Shop for Change Fair Trade labelled products so that the producers, the real beneficiaries of IRFT, get maximum benefit and in that process they get a fair share of what they deserve in order to sustain their livelihoods.

How has the reception to Fair Trade been in India?
The reception to fair trade in India has been extremely positive.  We as Indian consumers believe in giving rather than taking, as the Gita says.  We have plenty to give and to receive from each other.  The fair trade model talks about more than just charity to people who are in need, and people have responded well to this idea of business and trade as a catalyst for development.  Fair trade uses transparency in dealing with long supply chains to ensure that the consumer is made aware that a fair share has been given to the producer who toiled hard and is most often deprived in the process.  IRFT has been working to build basic awareness and consumer confidence, and we’ve received a great response thus far.

What are IRFT’s plans to work with Shop for Change and further cement the concept of Fair Trade in India?
IRFT is a close partner of Shop for Change, having been part of its development from the very inception of the idea.  We are working with Shop for Change to promote the concept of fairness along the supply chain to consumers of fair trade products.  We are engaged in building a demand for the need to have a fair trade basket of products.

Grassroots level communication to the target group customer, the youth, has given us further impetus to promote the cause of fair trade and the confidence that the youth of India are ready for change.  The communication tools to enhance this message of the fair trade movement coming to India and what it means to the consumer in a simplistic, acceptable tone is what IRFT is primarily working on.  Consumer awareness, loyalty, and commitment to the eventual fair trade basket are our contributions to the domestic fair trade movement.  From fair trade cotton to fair trade garments, the launch of the first product of Shop for Change and thereafter the range of products to come, IRFT will continue to promote the concept of fairness in trade and what it signifies to the consumer.

How have you seen Fair Trade improve the lives of farmers and artisans in India?
If you look at the life of a typical cotton farmer in India, you see that there is very little stability.  Prices are constantly changing, middlemen are pushing them into very deep debt, and there is no room to plan for the future- the only thing on their mind is how to put food on the table each day.  With fair trade, we have seen that farmers are given stable market access and a premium price, allowing them to think beyond the next day’s meal and invest in education for their children and development for their community.  We have also seen that fair trade linkages have helped save dying art forms like Worli painting, allowing future generations of artists to thrive off of their work rather than having to migrate to the cities to make just enough money for their families to survive.  Fair trade is a sign of hope for many of the struggling farmers and artisans in India.

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