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Fair Trade with South India
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Vandanamu Fair Trade , based in the UK, has the following aims:
  • To alleviate poverty in marginalised communities in the Pondicherry area, by helping their people to develop sustainable livelihoods. This involves provision of training, facilities to enable people to apply and develop their skills, and crucially, the establishment of indigenous and export markets for them to supply.
  • To inform consumers in more affluent societies about the realities of life of financially under-privileged people in South India and to provide the opportunities that so many of us desire, to participate in the alleviation of their hardship, to appreciate their craftsmanship and share in the joys of working together for the common good.
  • To promote Fair Trade generally, and demonstrate that it is possible to run commercially viable small businesses on fair trade principles.
Mrs Thambidurai of Venkateswara Wood Industries
Mrs Thambidurai of Venkateswara Wood Industries

Pondicherry and its People

Pondicherry is a small State (or more precisely a Union Territory with Legislature) on the South-East coast of India, 160 kms south of Chennai (Madras). Covering an area of 480 sq. kms, it has a population of approximately 1 million. Their language is Tamil.

Socio-economic indicators such as infant mortality, literacy and per capita income are more favourable than for India as a whole, but there are few natural resources and in some areas deprivation is severe. The coastal villages nearby were devastated by the tsunami, with a very heavy death toll especially in Karaikal. Recovery has been severely hampered by the heaviest monsoon rains in 50 years. We believe fair trade livelihood initiatives are crucial to the rehabilitation of these long-suffering coastal communities.

What is Fair Trade?

FINE, a working group of international organisations promoting fair trade, has produced the following definition:

Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, which seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers - especially in the South.

FINE also produced the following set of guidelines for Fair Trade:

  • To improve the livelihoods and well being of producers by improving market access, strengthening producer organisations, paying a better price and providing continuity in the trading relationship.
  • To promote development opportunities for disadvantaged producers, especially women and indigenous people and to protect children from exploitation in the production process.
  • To raise awareness among consumers of the negative effects on producers of international trade so that they exercise their purchasing power positively.
  • To set an example of partnership in trade through dialogue, transparency and respect.
  • To campaign for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.
  • To protect human rights by promoting social justice, sound environmental practices and economic security.

For further discussion and information on Fair Trade organisations see the Fair Trade Links pages of Oxfam's website.

Fair Trade with Pondicherry

Vandanamu Fair Trade (VFT) is a "sole trader" importing and distribution business (with proprietor Françoise Carré) located in Southampton. With the help of friends in South India VFT supports some small village enterprises, providing guidance on suitability of products, funding for shelter and equipment, and most importantly, a market for their goods. It also helps seek markets for some already existing larger producer groups. VFT ensures that all its producer groups subscribe to the FINE principles, for instance in the payment and general treatment of their workers and in environmental practices.

In the UK, VFT finds the buyers, imports and distributes the goods, and is guarantor of the collective financial undertakings. It only imports goods from producers well-known to it, in the Pondicherry area. UK sales are through shops and volunteers who sell the goods at community markets and to their friends and neighbours.

Vandanamu Fair Trade subscribes entirely to the FINE principles in all its operations. It pays the producers generous wholesale prices, at least 50% on placement of orders and the rest when goods are despatched. A Fair Trade Premium (FTP), currently 18% of the wholesale price, is also paid by VFT on all goods. FTPs are distributed every six months. In the case of the larger producers, these payments are made into the workers' micro-bank accounts. These funds, managed by the workers, are intended primarily to liberate them from indebtedness and to pay for health needs and education of their families. In the case of very small producers in a village context, the distribution is partly in the form of a salary bonus, partly through funding of medical support, and partly by funding local hygiene and education initiatives. The distribution of premiums takes place at meetings of all the workers whose products we sell. The calculations are explained in full, and VFT's accounts are available for inspection and comment by all concerned.

Vandanamu Fair Trade, being run and supported entirely by volunteers, returns all its income to South India. Donations and any accumulated profits are employed in projects beneficial to the community. Current examples are the contracts given to improve the building that houses a sewing unit, and a solar energy system for a village night school (see the Developments page).

Self Help Group of Inner Reflection receiving their Fair Trade Premium

Self Help Group of Inner Reflection receiving their Fair Trade Premium