Fair Trade for peace in Palestine

A tiny state where conflict is not uncommon, but small as it is, Palestine is home to two great Fair Trade organisations  passionate about building peace in Palestine through Fair Trade.

Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society (HLHCS) and Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA) have recently got the status of Guaranteed Members after passing the Guarantee System (GS) process. We asked these two organisations to tell us more about what it means to be guaranteed members and about how Fair Trade is doing in their country.

BFTA Executive Director Suzan Sahori succinctly described their work and aspirations: “We come from the country of three holy religions, if our country were to be presented as a brand, it should say: Peace. It is ironic how a country which holds peace so dear to the heart can get lost the way it is now. The only meaning the word peace left is the hope that it might come one day, because it seems that the peace initiatives have packed up its suitcase leaving us with no peace and diminishing hope. Without hope, humanity would be extinct. There are good people out there who want and are trying to make a difference, from both sides of the separation wall. The Fair Trade handicraft sector seems like a good exit strategy from the desperate political situation we are in and it will certainly lead to a bright future at the end of this dark tunnel. People from both Palestine and Israel are pursuing spreading the peace message through beautiful and meaningful Fair Trade handicraft products.”

Photo: Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society

For HLHCS, Fair Trade is a symbol for peace. It is a tool to achieve their aspirations. “Holy Land Handicrafts has a dream of peace, a hope that the two nations together can build love, where peace, equality, cooperation for progress, mutual respect can flourish,” said Basma Barham, Director of International Relations of HLHCS.

“The principles of Fair Trade lead us down the path of dignity, humanity, equality, environmental preservation and care for the younger generations… ,” said Basma. “HLHCS is sowing optimism amid the gloom by involving people to work for peace.”

With HLHCS and BFTA being Guaranteed Fair Trade Organisations, they are proud of their achievement -  complying with the international Fair Trade standard of WFTO.

Being a guaranteed member of WFTO opens a lot of possibilities for HLHCS. For example, the GS process provided the organisation to examine their practices, assess their strengths and weakness and identify areas for improvement.  “We realised that there were a lot of things that we had to do and change, and we went ahead with the changes,” said Basma of their GS experience. “We have improved a lot of areas, developed new strategies, and realised that there is much to do.”

The GS is not only a verification tool to check that the principles of Fair Trade are applied and respected by members, it is also a development tool to guide organisations to improve their practices, thus delivering more benefits to the producers.  

Photos: Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans (BFTA)

Suzan underscored that being a guaranteed member is more than just being able to use the WFTO label on their products. “It means more credibility. It gives an incentive for BFTA to continue monitoring and improving the overall well-being of our artisans.”

In a region characterised by an unstable political situation, where many artisans live on very low incomes and receive no recognition for their handmade products, Fair Trade can be a change maker. Both Basma and Suzan believe that their organisation contributed to improve the conditions in Palestine. According to Basma, HHCS is changing the mentality in the country and encouraging citizens to understand their rights, and demand respect. Suzan affirms increased sales, through Fair Trade recognition, creates stability of incomes for artisans, and ensure their a sense of economic security.

BFTA and HHCS are both active in the Fair Trade movement, and continuously working to bring Fair Trade to the next level. In 2012, BFTA hosted a major event at the heart of Bethlehem to celebrate World Fair Trade Day to increase Fair Trade awareness. HLHCS invests in spreading the Fair Trade philosophy in schools, university, and among farmers and artisans. Both organisations earned a good reputation of being active promoters of Fair Trade in Palestine. Many Palestinian artisans were positively impressed by the Fair Trade concept and showed interest in becoming part of these organisations.

Basma and Suzan wish there were more Fair Trade organisations in Palestine to help build peace and bring prosperity. “Through Fair Trade we aim at promoting peace as well, and since our work involves artisans’ handicrafts we aimed at promoting peace through this beautiful art,” said Suzan. “Let’s follow the 10 principles together and we will see smiling faces and peace all over the world,” echoed Basma.


by Michael Sarcauga and Elisa Agosti