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These days, promises of sustainability and fairness have become a standard pitch by even the most exploitative and destructive corporations. While we know that all that glitters is not green, it’s worth looking at what Fair Trade really means, and how it intersects with the alpaca sweaters, ruanas and beanies at Invisible World.
A number of our suppliers of alpaca wool clothing are certified Fair Trade by PromPeru, a government organization dedicated to the promotion of Peruvian tourism and exports.
To qualify, the companies must do more than make a great alpaca hat. They must meet high standards for workplace safety, help their workers and knitting communities upgrade their skills through periodic training, and make sure that the children of workers directly employed by them are getting proper schooling and not being exploited. Child labor is forbidden and women’s rights are accentuated. Sustainability measures such as recycling, conserving water and electricity and using natural or recycled materials are practiced by the company and promoted to knitting groups and suppliers.
Capacitation Session in Lima
These are all great things. But does that mean that companies that are not Certified Fair Trade are bad companies? Not at all.
When products are commodities, such as cacao, coffee, timber etc, a single purchaser may have the power to manipulate prices downward and keep producers poor. In these cases, cooperatives and Fair Trade agreements allow producers to get a higher price for their produce and enable them to raise living and working standards. It’s an excellent tool for making lives better.
But when the products are complex women’s alpaca sweaters and other garments, the situation is very different. The seams of an alpaca poncho must be joined perfectly, while even a single misplaced stitch of embroidery on an alpaca cardigan can result in all of it getting pulled out and redone. It takes years to completely train a worker in alpaca clothing production, and even then, some are more skillful than others. That’s why in all of the companies we deal with, employees are around for years, and often for decades. On a practical level, it’s impossible to keep workers for that amount of time if they feel exploited or underpaid, and salaries must reflect their skills and their loyalty. All in-house employees have all their social benefits paid, including extra salaries and pensions stipulated by the law. The owners of these companies work alongside their employees all day long, know their families and their stories, and treat them respectfully.
So, while Fair Trade businesses definitely go the extra mile and are to be commended, we feel that all of our suppliers are a positive force in the lives of the people they work with.