Think fair

ANTONIA TAYLOR is the WA retail manager for Oxfam Shops, founder and director of Cambodian social enterprise Khmer Creations and convenor of Fair Trade Freo. Oxfam has two Fair Trade shops in WA, one in Fremantle, the other in Hay Street in Perth.

CHRISTMAS is a time when we think about others. We take the time to write a card to an old friend, prepare a festive dinner, donate food to the homeless and search for the perfect gifts for our loved ones.

But what about the people who make our gifts and grow our food? Do we stop to consider them in the rush to get through our Christmas shopping list?

For three inspiring years, I lived in Cambodia’s bustling capital Phnom Penh.

Meeting and working with people with disabilities, women that had been sex-trafficked, survivors of acid attacks and rural farmers allowed me to witness firsthand the benefits that the fair trade system has on empowering disadvantaged communities.

The fair trade movement has enabled Cambodian artisans to learn new skills for running sustainable businesses.

These enterprises provide a safe working environment and a fair wage that enables artisans to support their families and further the education of their children.

One of the challenges faced by these small-scale handicraft producers is creating products that meet the demands and tastes of the western market. Large fair trade organisations like Oxfam play a vital role in supporting producers with product development, marketing, advance payments and access to world markets such as Australia.

Fair trade also helps revive and sustain traditional, time-honoured skills such as hand-loom silk weaving, an industry that could have been lost to mechanised production today if not for the hand-crafted nature of fair trade products. As these old skills meet new markets, a creative fusion of new and recycled materials and innovative design has bloomed.

One of my favourite innovations is bombshell jewellery that we sell in our Oxfam shops.

14. 50THINK

The producer group Rajana sources its raw materials through a partnership with an organisation that trains Cambodians to safely remove landmines. Once an ugly symbol of a brutal civil war, these old bombshells are brought back to life by a talented team of jewellers and fashioned into objects of beauty.

Rajana bombshell jewellery artisan Heang Sopheanith (pictured) expresses his gratitude to the customers who purchase his jewellery.

“Thank you to all customers that support and buy our products,” he says.

“When they buy our products it means that they can support me and all staff here, because we have the work to do.”

With $256 million of Fairtrade-certified food and drinks sold in Australia during 2013, the market for Fairtrade-certified products has never been bigger.

Growing consumer awareness about the environmental and social impacts of our global food system has drawn people to the Fairtrade certification as the ethical source of food products such as tea, coffee and chocolate.

This has lead to an explosion of Fairtrade-certified products in the mainstream market so is has never been easier to please our tastebuds while satisfying our ethics.

Purchasing fair trade is like casting a vote: every time we choose it we show big business we care about the people toiling in tea plantations or stitching the seams of our clothes.

These are not anonymous people but fathers and mothers; just like the amazing people I met in Cambodia who, with our support, are working hard to lift themselves out of poverty.

It is within the Christmas spirit of sharing that we can truly support our global family.

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