Fair Trade and its Importance to Handicrafts Producers

The handicrafts sector has a rich and diverse meaning for the world. It comprises centuries-old traditions with production techniques passed down from one generation to the other, gathering people who have a unique talent and passion for handmade work. For instance, members of Selyn, an organisation working in Fair Trade in Sri Lanka, have revived and revitalized the handloom industry in the country by creating a fusion between this rich traditional handicraft and the modern tastes of society.  Since 1991, this organization has provided the cultural handloom heritage of Sri Lanka with a new venue, making it not only more popular, but also more recognised.

Nowadays, Fair Trade has begun to enlist more and more products than ever before. As the number of organisations interested in selling and purchasing Fair Trade products grows, changes begin to occur in the demand side of the trade. In 1992, handicrafts account for 80% of Fair Trade products sold compared to agricultural products at 20%. However in 2002, the scenario was reversed. Ten years later, agricultural products account for 76% of Fair Trade products sold, leaving handicrafts at 26%.[1]  

Despite the change in the proportion of the demand (agricultural vs handicrafts products), handicrafts production remains crucial for people all over the world, and the reason for that is simply the fact that they can be produced with relatively limited resources. Handicrafts producers are often people who do not own land or are unable to pursue other economic occupation. Hence, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) has recognised this industry as a major income generating activity in poor countries.

Colourful designer artisan plates by Calypso Glass (Chile)

In many regions of the world, handicrafts are one of the most accessible sources of income for women and their families. However, it can be extremely hard to make a decent income from selling handmade work. Many handicrafts producers face difficulties, and are often subjected to exploitation, notable of which is that they are getting unfair prices from their produce.

One good case are the artisans in Bali. This beautiful island in the archipelago of Indonesia attracts tourists worldwide because of its beautiful, pristine beaches and rich culture, and home to traditional artisans. The influx of tourists has boosted the demand for souvenir items, but also a scene for middlemen to exploit the local handicrafts makers. Merchants on the shopping streets charge high prices to tourists for artisan-made products, which are supplied by local artisans at very low prices. Many of these merchants have succeeded in keeping local artisans in the dark about the prices and places where their products are sold, profiting the hard work of local artisans.

To combat these unfair trading practices, a local organization, Mitra Bali, has committed to informing producers about their rights and helping them change the trade model – demanding fair payment for their crafts and knowing the worth of their own skills and crafts. In effect, this has initiated a change in the handicrafts’ trading scene in Bali, which grows stronger every year. Campaigns, communication and relentless trust in the Fair Trade principles have already helped Mitra Bali reach thousands of homes in Bali.

Therefore, Fair Trade has proven to be a strong force in dealing with unscrupulous trading practices that exploits producers. The 10 Fair Trade Principles, not only enforce payment of fair prices and wages, but also enable producer empowerment.

In effect, Fair Trade has become a major factor for the enhancement of the producers’ well-being. The WFTO family of handicrafts makers continues to grow every year and with it we come closer to fulfilling our goal: enabling producers to improve their livelihoods through Fair Trade, and ensuring that their voices are heard.

By Anton Delchev


[1] Boonman, M., Huisman, W., Sarruco-Fedorovtsjev, E. and Sarruco T. (2011) Fair Trade Facts and Figures: A success story for producers and consumers, p.23.