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Why you should learn from Auroville’s Fair Trade journey and begin asking questions about your favourite brands.

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Madhusoodhanan K, co-founder of Dhanyam, the leading organic superstore in Chennai, believes that Fair Trade and organic do not intersect often. Yet he swears by Auroville’s sustainable practices. “We try to stock as much as possible from Auroville, whether it is Fair Trade-certified or not. The villages there cannot be compared with any other, as even women from economically disadvantaged backgrounds can speak English and French fluently, communicate via email, lead teams and execute ideas,” he says. While he stocks brands like Pukka, not all customers at his store are aware of Fair Trade. “Yet somewhere it touches a chord and at least 10 per cent of them try to buy a brand that is clo

A SHOCKING pink box named Love. The last thing you expect to find rubbing shoulders with dried Kashmiri chillies and papads at your local organic store is the UK tea brand, Pukka. And in a flavour that ties in with the romantic weekend ahead. Of the 37 teas Pukka retails, 10 have Fair Trade certification, and they work with projects in India, China and Vietnam, among other countries. The gentle and refined floral tea in pink and gold packaging, for instance, has rose, chamomile and lavender, is 100 per cent organically grown and fairly traded. And, next weekend, at the Sustainability and Fairtrade market in Pondicherry, you can stock up on as many flavours as you wish — Supreme Matcha Green and Peppermint and Licorice being popular options. The mela at Gandhi Thidal, being planned for weeks now, will see 27 stalls, almost all manned by Fair Trade-certified outfits retailing everything from spices and honey to fashion and fun T-shirts. The idea, members tell us, is to create awareness about the Fair Trade Twin Towns movement that will see Pondicherry and Auroville becoming a united force in August 2017, to join 1900 other Fair Trade towns worldwide. The movement picked up steam last October and is now seeing interest from other towns like Kotagiri that want to join the club.
Between the lines
For those not in the know, the ingredients of Fair Trade include dialogue, transparency and respect in a trading partnership. Minimum wages, best practices and steps taken to improve farmers’ and plantation workers’ lives add to this story. “Incidentally, there are approximately 170 organisations in the value chain in India that are Fairtrade-certified, but most are largely veered towards exports, and often in textile or garment sectors,” begins Abhishek Sani, the Bengaluru-based CEO of Fairtrade India. He notes that of the 1,39,000 tea planters and farmers across the country who benefit from Fairtrade practices, most are from Telangana, Odisha and the Nilgiris. “Pondicherry and Auroville have the most awareness, as does Bengaluru, which is receptive to innovation,” adds Sani. With an approximate population of 5,00,000 (Pondicherry) and 12,000 (Auroville), the success of the Fair Trade story here will see it becoming a role model for other towns and cities, insist members.
Thinking big
The approach to defining Fair Trade towns is different in India. It is “a local story” here (unlike in Europe, where most products are manufactured elsewhere and shipped in). While the guidelines are still being formalised for the country, according to Anjali Schiavina, the founder of Mandala Apparels who started the initiative in Pondicherry and Auroville, at least 20 per cent of the restaurants and 10 per cent of the schools must invest in Fair Trade. So schools and universities will need to teach students about the people who grow their food and clothes, grocery shops must stock Fair Trade and businesses like restaurants must have Fair Trade values. Schiavina’s story is a fine example of how Fair Trade has seen one person create a huge, positive impact. Expanding from just one tailor in 2002 to 222 tailors, with concrete plans for a second factory, this Punjabi from Auroville says she wanted to take the values of Fair Trade mainstream. “We have eight-week training programmes for semi-skilled women, fair wages, and no child labour in the supply chain,” she says. They monitor improvement among the women workers and teach them to save. With huge numbers (15,000 to 20,000 pieces per export order per season), and a zero-waste policy, the premium goes directly to the farmer. Her network spans Telangana and Odisha (cotton), Tirupur (knitting) and Dindigul (weaving). “We are a social enterprise, not an NGO and I am thinking of launching our own brand of garments next year,” she says. At their stall at the mela, visitors will track the life of a garment, and she will include a capsule collection of export-quality bags and clothing. Schiavina comes across young executives interested in the Fair Trade story, often burnt out from their corporate stint, with a passion to make a difference. Devina Singh, a former tax consultant, is one such person, who is now part of the Fairtrade India team.  “With one farmer committing suicide every 30 minutes and at least 70 per cent of these suicides in the cotton trade, something has to be done,” says the Bengaluru-based member who would like her friends to start questioning where their food and clothes come from. “I love my food, my fashion and my farmer and I want this attitude to spread.”
Beyond personal benefit
While the notion of Fair Trade in the West is very rational, the emotional connect is what will make a difference here. We have taken to organic in a big way because of its personal benefits. ‘‘But the consumer needs to have a deeper awareness of the farmer in his life and must learn to consume less, waste less,” says Aurovrata Venet, a Chennai-based consultant for sustainable growth. Going the Fair Trade way as a consumer does not mean you have to compromise on quality or choice. “People are willing to pay Rs 12 per tea bag for a Twinings, when they can opt for Fair Trade tea from the Nilgiris for Rs 5.6 per tea bag or premium options like Pukka or Makaibari from Darjeeling,” says Sani. Fair Trade members in Pondicherry hope to convey this message at the mela, be it through the tees from Mandala Apparels or Ambala Hammocks, scented candles from Maroma or the kurtas and stoles from the organic brand, Upasana, which uses fashion as a design for change. With her 40-strong workforce, “a young team,” the articulate Uma Prajapati at Upasana heads six social projects, one of them involving 14 villages working together to create cotton bags for companies like Fabindia. “We go the Fair Trade way only for the domestic market because I believe that the change has to happen here,” she says. If you are in Pondicherry for the mela next weekend, don’t miss her stall for her organic saris and wearable art. As for the Love tea , Sebastian Pole, co-founder of Pukka Herbs, made it as a gift to win over his partner, now wife, Suze Pole. A perfect February purchase, one would think.sest to the farmer.”

Rosella Stephen

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