The artisan sector is largely unregulated, leaving many people vulnerable to exploitation. This means that the very artisans that pour themselves into the handcrafted items sitting in our living rooms and kitchens are often not being fairly compensated for their work.
Handmade Baskets from Rwanda
This happens because artisans often do not have access to a stable market connection that would enable them to gain new customers. Because of this, artisans are often exploited by middlemen who buy their products for pennies, and resell them at an increased price. This means that the majority of the money spent by the end customer is not ending up in the pockets of the people who hand-stitched, carved, wove, and painted the product themselves.
Artisans at Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society
For this reason, it is vital that companies working within the handcraft sector put in the work necessary to create greater transparency and accountability among home and small workshops.
In order to do this, Ethik is currently in the process of creating a vetting tool to examine and build upon existing practices among our artisan partners. Through this tool, we will work with each artisan group representative to not only ensure a commitment to upholding ethical standards within their working environments, but to also identify resources and training needed in order to accomplish these goals.
This tool will eventually be available for artisan groups who are not currently certified through other vetting processes existing in the handmade sphere.
Basket Weaver in Rwanda
While these existing fair trade certifications are a good option for more established groups, they are not a feasible option for many of the groups within Ethik’s network. This is due to the high costs and lengthy application processes associated with them. These barriers often excludes many artisan groups from entering in the fair trade space, failing to benefit the most disadvantaged, including the small workshops in Guatemala, and communities of craftspeople scattered across villages in Nepal.
At Ethik, we question existing systems, and reform them to better fit the needs of the populations we work with. By building out a system to verify ethical standards and build upon current capacities without emptying the pockets of our artisan partners, we seek to grow long-lasting and sustainable relationships with the people who hand-make each product on our site.
Mugs made by artisans in Vietnam
Additionally, in order to create greater inclusivity in our marketplace, Ehik will continue allowing artisan groups to choose certifications that align best with their needs and financial capabilities. By informing artisan groups of the multiple ways they can be certified, they can be empowered to make decisions that work best for their business.
For example, among Ethik’s current artisan partners, Holy Land Handicraft Cooperative Society is a member of the World Fair Trade Organization, while Azizi Life has recently applied to become a part of Nest’s Guild in order to work towards receiving their Seal for Home and Small Workshops.
Mabira Collective, on the other hand, has been extensively vetted by the Ethik team and is currently working on testing the first stage of the upcoming vetting tool known as the “Reporting Process.” During this stage, the artisan group representative will be required to report on practices related to environmental preservation, anti-discrimination practices, measures that prevent child labor, workshop safety, and worker’s rights (including policies related to fair pay, benefits, and time off).
After this stage is complete, we will then work with each group to create written policies, develop workshop training, and implement practices that promote safety within the workshop and prioritizes the wellbeing of each artisan.
While the creation of this tool is under development, Ethik will continue to vet artisan groups by having them report on their current practices, providing documentation to verify information, having on-site visits, and engaging in capacity building.
As we support artisans by ensuring ethical practices, you can support artisan groups by continuing to place orders with them; allowing them to gain greater market connections and decrease their likelihood of being exploited by unjust practices.