Meet Heidi, Our Verification Specialist
As a Fair Trade Certification Officer, I am responsible for the continuous development and quality of our ethical verification system for producers, creating an impact reporting system and tools for the company and working as a contact point for our sellers in South Asia, and supporting the small entrepreneurs and marginal producer communities on product development/quality, logistics.
Global manufacturing, textile factories, supply chains, labor laws, minimum wages. Words that normally muster thoughts of injustice, conflict, and confusion. So, what the heck has happiness got to do with any of these words?
I have made numerous visits during the past 10+ years to meet the Fair Trade manufacturers and farmers in developing countries. I have been interviewing the workers, farmers, and management on wages, working conditions, safety, and environmental management--aspects closely related to officially monitored Fair Trade principles and international standards. (Sadly, these are still lacking in so many global supply chains.)
In the past years especially, the topic of fair wages and compensation for factory workers and small producers has made its rounds in ethical trading circles, and precedentially—into mainstream culture. Customers and at least some lawmakers have awakened to the fact that in order for us in “the North” to be able to consume masses of cheap goods, the price has to be paid somewhere else: with poor labor conditions, child labor and low wages in the developing countries. All these injustices exist as much for fast fashion chains as they do for expensive luxury brands.
It is clearly acknowledged that fair pay is the cornerstone of treating employees well and offering them a chance to improve the living standard and future for themselves and their families. But, on my visits to the producers, I have noticed something else that workers need. Ethical trade seems to be providing workers with something beyond proper salary and fair pay—happiness.
Just one month ago, I visited an NGO in South India that trains and employs women from slums for basket weaving and tailoring. When I asked the ladies what they would be doing without this job, they told me that they had other career options where they could even get paid more. But, it would require them to work around the clock, without any rights. So they opted for the handicrafts production where they said they felt free.
Similarly, a year ago, I visited a Fair Trade workshop in the city of Kolkata, India, manufacturing leather products. Mr. Kousic, the manager of the workshop, said fair pay is important but on top of that, people want to be respected and have human value. The women of the workshop enforced this by mentioning three important needs; security, respect, and continuity.
Ms. Dulurani said that for her, the biggest difference between a Fair Trade workplace and a big factory is the atmosphere. If there were any issues, she felt that they could be discussed openly with the management. Like other women I have interviewed, she valued a workplace with a non-discriminatory environment, where women could feel safe. And, not only in regard to the salaries or everyday practices but as something more genuine, something that´s ”in the air” of their workplace.
The studies done on labor markets and Fair Trade rarely mention these factors; feelings of security, continuity, respect, human value – and the happiness that they bring. These factors are much harder to measure than other things, like salary or work hours. But, they cannot be neglected. Every time I meet and interview artisans or manufacturers, the same needs are repeated. Happiness, or a lack thereof, has an immeasurable value. The effect that happiness has on the everyday life of a worker in a developing country adds priceless value to their quality of life—even if it cannot be quantified.