Talking About Shop for Change

November 17, 2009

As we reach out to potential partners and build consumer awareness at the grassroots level, we are constantly asking ourselves about the best way to talk about Shop for Change.  Do we make it trendy?  Do we make it intellectual? Do we make it serious or do we make it fun?  How do we keep the message simple as well as be as clear as possible in explaining the benefits to farmers?

We’ve received an overwhelmingly positive response to Shop for Change thus far, but as we prepare for our launch, we recognize the challenges we will face in communicating the message of fair trade to the general Indian public.

We want to hear from you.  How do you think Shop for Change should most effectively communicate to consumers?  What are the aspects of Shop for Change that attracted you to support the cause?  Leave us a comment and let us know!

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Shop for Change and its partner International Resources for Fairer Trade recently travelled to Amravati, Maharasthra, to visit Zameen Organic’s Shop for Change Fair Trade certified cotton farmers.  We visited the homes of several farming families where we heard about the benefits that fair trade has brought them.  From stories of increased incomes to children attending school to trainings on sustainable farming methods, it was clear that fair trade was having a significant impact on the livelihoods of not only the individual farmers, but the entire community.

We were also lucky enough to attend the Annual General Meeting of one of Zameen’s farmers associations, Vidarbha Organic Farmers Association (VOFA). The event featured stalls that showcased innovative farming, speeches, awards given to farmer leaders, and a powerful cultural performance.  The meeting was attended by an estimated 2000 farmers and was a great opportunity for us to see the impact of fair trade on farmer empowerment.

Click through to see photos and read more about the people we met.

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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.

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Many products that we use every day come from farmers or handicrafts artisans in our own backyard. But the people who produce these products often can’t access markets directly, forcing them to sell on terms that don’t allow them to make ends meet or to invest in environmentally sustainable production. While recent economic growth in India is benefiting many, there are millions of farmers and artisans who are being left out. Behind the products they produce – cotton, fruit, tea, coffee, and handicrafts to name a few – there is often a trail of missed opportunity, economic hardship, and environmental mismanagement.

Fair trade is a globally recognized approach to business that aims to ensure that these farmers and artisans get a fair deal. Building on successful models in other countries, Shop for Change Fair Trade has developed a set of social and environmental standards to help ensure equal opportunity, healthy and safe working conditions, fair wages, environmentally friendly farm production, better business relationships, and much more. When products are produced and traded according to these standards, companies may display the Shop for Change Fair Trade certification label on their products. By voting with their wallets, consumers can send a message to companies that the market rewards businesses that commit to equal opportunity for producers and environmental stewardship.

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As major brands across the world have signed on to market fair trade products, coffee house giant Starbucks is one of the players at the forefront, having purchased fair trade certified coffee for nearly 10 years.

Starbucks Coffee Company is an international coffee and coffeehouse chain based in Seattle, Washington, USA.  It is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with over 16,000 stores in 49 countries. Starbucks’ major engagement in fair trade has brought the company significant attention.  Through this association, coffee farmers receive a fairer deal for their coffee, increasing profits that can be invested into their own farms.  And Starbucks’ commitment to source coffee ethically has fortified the strength of its brand, differentiating it from others.

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Change is happening in India.  Our country is growing rapidly, increasing its influence globally, and we are becoming ever more conscious of our duty to be socially and environmentally responsible.  As consumers, we now have the opportunity to use our growth to help those who have often been left untouched by the country’s economic success.  So how do we do it?

In Western markets, a movement called fair trade has empowered average citizens to help farmers improve their livelihoods by helping them choose to buy ethically.  One simply has to look for the fair trade certification label that shows that a product has been made following a specific set of social and environmental standards.  The fair trade label means equal opportunity, healthy and safe working conditions, fair wages, environmentally friendly farm production, better business relationships, and much more.  Shop for Change now brings this movement to India, so you too can choose to buy fair trade.

Our first certified products will be cotton garments, linens, and home furnishings.  We’ve all heard the stories of the struggles of cotton farmers throughout the country, and now with Shop for Change Fair Trade certification, we can give these farmers a fair deal and make a difference through the products we buy.

Shop for Change is not your typical NGO.  We go beyond the charity model to provide farmers access to markets while putting power into the hands of consumers to ensure that their money goes back to the producers who need it most.  Keep an eye on our blog to read about our upcoming launch and to find out where you too can Shop for Change.

Want to learn more?  Check out our website at www.shopforchange.in