Fair trade practices level the playing field between emerging and developed nations and help to assure that artisans, farmers, and other producers are treated fairly, paid a decent wage, and paid on time. It includes not only fair labor practices and workers' rights, but also responsible environmental stewardship. When implemented well, fair trade practices empower individuals and their communities and create opportunities for people to improve their lives while protecting precious natural resources.
Numerous fair trade practices are included in the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, of which the Nature Bag Project fulfills 13. Read more about that here. There is no single global body that certifies fair trade products, but the common fair trade practices include the following six foci. We’ve addressed them here.
Principle #1 - Artisans are paid a living hourly wage while they are engaged in the production of the products purchased. They are paid fully and on time.
The Khmu began making bags for the commercial market at the inception of our project 15 years ago, and they are very well aware of the market value their goods have. They set the price for the goods they produce. We pay the artisans immediately for the pieces they create without haggling.
Even in a situation where we only need a small portion of the pieces they’ve produced, we have consistently paid for everything so that each artisan, no matter how remote or isolated her village might be, can sell the work she has created.
Artisans source the material (JungleVine® fiber) used in their handicrafts from the fields and forests surrounding their villages. It is a fast-growing perennial and essentially free to them with the exception of the labor required to gather and process it.
Principle #2 - Artisans are hired based on their ability to produce the product, without regard to the following status: age, caste, disability, gender, gender identity, marital or health status, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, union membership.
The Khmu artisans who produce the JungleVine® products are not employees. Our organization does not hire artisans and has no authority to fire them. If anything, it could be said that we work for them. Since artisans work at their own pace and when and if they wish to, there are no formal rules to take away their flexibility. They produce the products and we help them bring them to the world market.
Principle #3 - Artisans who work on-site are free from physical, sexual, psychological, or verbal harassment or abuse. Artisans who report discrimination are free from retaliation.
Nature Bag’s Khmu artisans live in more than 40 different villages spread across the Laotian highlands. This is a remote region with very limited access. There is no centralized work site and each artisan works within their own home village and are only answerable to themselves. Since there isn't a central workplace, no hierarchies develop that could lead to abuse or exploitation.
Principle #4 - Artisans who work on-site have safe and healthy working conditions.
The Khmu artisans who create Nature Bags work within their own native villages and their own homes. As a part of our mission, our work preserves the Khmu culture and we would never disrupt it by demanding that artisans report to a centralized workplace.
Principle #5 - Artisans groups disclose the employment of children under the age of 18 and ensure that all children have the right to security, playtime, and are enrolled in full-time education. Artisan groups do not support child trafficking or engage in exploitative child labor.
Khmu villages are virtually deserted during the day, as every able-bodied adult is working in the fields. The only adults left in the villages are the elderly and those who are physically unable to work. As a community, the tribe takes care of their elderly residents’ food, housing, and other basic needs. Babies and toddlers stay with their mothers. Community schools are essential to the Khmu culture and virtually every child attends both elementary and middle school.
Despite the remote isolation of each Khmu village, the Lao government has built an elementary school within each village. Middle schools serve children from clusters of surrounding villages on a consolidated campus. Many middle school children must travel a considerable distance to school – a distance too great to travel daily. Their campuses include dormitories where the children reside during the week. They make the long treks back to their families each weekend.
The Khmu have passed the bag-making skills from parent to child for thousands of years as a basic survival tool. A teen may ask her mother or grandmother to teach her the skill, but the Khmu do not place any burden of bag-making work or earning income on their children’s shoulders.
Principle #6 - Artisan groups encourage environmentally sustainable practices in the creation of their products, and reduce, reuse, reclaim, and recycle materials wherever possible.
Nature Bag and JungleVine® products generate zero waste and zero pollution. There are no toxic materials used in or generated from their production. There is no machinery or electricity used in their creation. In fact, due to the very nature of the vine the Khmu use to produce these products, the entire process is not only carbon neutral but it is carbon negative. JungleVine® fiber is so remarkably eco-friendly that it is environmentally superior to organic fibers like cotton—it’s even better than hemp. You can read about how JungleVine® fiber compares to organic cotton and hemp here and here.
Reasons to Support Nature Bag Fair Trade Products
Through our efforts, a remote people have been given the opportunity to earn income while working from home in their villages in their spare time. The income they earn improves their standard of living, the educational opportunities for their children, and access to healthcare. The Nature Bag Project has helped to preserve traditional Khmu culture and their centuries-old bag-making art.
The Nature Bag connects the Khmu and their remarkably eco-friendly handicrafts to the global marketplace, where consumers are eager to not only support artisans, but to support environmentally-friendly initiatives.