Do “Fair Trade” or “Socially Responsible” Products Actually Make a Difference? Yes, Here’s How.

You’re probably familiar with the phrases “fair trade” “socially responsible” products, but what does all of that mean? Is it a mix of better business models and social justice? Is it a set of rules that guide business ethics? Or is it just another trend that won’t make much of a long term difference?

Let’s get specific about how fair trade, socially responsible products have a massive impact on incredibly skilled artisans, as well as their local community.

Paying a Fair Wage Empowers Women and Men to Overcome Poverty in Their Lifetime

At KAZI, we’re focused on creating unique, beautiful products from talented artisans in remote regions that haven’t had access to the global market. This isn't just a vague business practice. This means creating employment for 3,600 artisans from Rwanda, Uganda, and Ghana and paying them a livable wage.

This changes people’s lives because a family’s income is permanently improved. While education and traditional aid can help, we’ve heard directly from artisans, “what we really need are jobs”. By connecting artisans in developing countries to the global market, we’re equipping and empowering women and men to be agents of change for themselves, their families, and their communities.

Our artisans are incredibly talented and create beautiful home decor products. When you purchase a woven bowl or floor vase, you’re making a responsible investment to change their lives for the better.

Buying Fair Trade Changes Entire Communities

When artisans are able to make a fair wage for themselves, that impacts not just them, but their families and local community as well. Together, we’ve been able to increase their income 5x, and they're building up the community around them in the process.

Let’s talk economics for a second. When a woman is paid for a basket from KAZI, we wire money from the United States to our Rwanda business, so new cash is introduced into the economy and put in the hands of a rural weaver. She now has money that previously didn’t exist in that local economy, so when she goes to the market to buy food or pays the school teacher for school fees (now that she can send her kids to school), she’s putting her new money into the hands of someone else who also needs income.  

By exporting goods and returning high wages and new income directly into rural areas, we’re not only helping the individual artisan and her family, but her community and even country. This creates an increase in their country’s GDP and helps the community and country as a whole. 

This new income for an artisan pulls them out of poverty within 1 year. How amazing is that!  If you got a job that increased your income 5-10x and you were able to provide nutritious food, pay for housing, education, clean water and healthcare for your family in the first year, and the second year you could start saving and investing, wouldn’t that be incredible?  Our artisan partners tell us it really makes a difference and is changing their lives as well as future generations.

“In the seven years I’ve been working with KAZI,  I’ve been able to make more than enough money to satisfy my basic needs and children’s educations. I was able to take out a loan to build a new house, pay school fees for all seven children, and that’s not all—I actually have money to invest in different things like land for farming, livestock, renovating her house, and electricity.”

-Seraphine

Seraphine is also a bit humble, because since she was able to send her kids to school, her daughter qualified for a scholarship and is now studying to be a doctor in Belgium!  When we met Seraphine she was a rural farmer with little income and opportunities. Her children were in and out of school as she struggled to keep up with school fees for all 7 of them. What an incredible testimony to fair trade wages and impact.

How Are These “Fair” Wages Determined?

 

Years ago, KAZI started as a non-profit that sponsored kids to go to school. Our heart and mission was to provide relief and opportunity for those in need in underserved communities around the globe.  

However, what we saw was that sponsorships can only help so much; it can also create an unintended consequence. When a family doesn’t have help from their children who were helping farm and produce food for the family prior to being in school, families struggle more

When we realized this and heard “we want jobs ourselves” we started to look at how to create local jobs (like chicken and egg farms), but eventually landed on the artisan impact model based on the high wages that could be returned. 

We started by sitting with these women, asking how much time goes into a basket and how much they need for materials. Next we did a survey of the market to better understand the cost of food, housing, livestock, and healthcare, deremining a targeted daily wage.  We discussed these numbers with the artisans and they were all in agreement on the wage being fair.  This new wage meant that we were paying 600% more than the price they could get locally for their baskets.  

Since then we have continued with the same model, bringing weavers to the table to inform us of the time and materials that it takes and discussing together what a fair wage looks like. We are ensuring that it’s a life-changing number that impacts their family, which averages around 6 people.

 

Weavers Are Paid First

Often we hear of a “percentage of proceeds” being given, or people may ask “what part of the profits are paid to the artisans”?  To be honest, on KAZI’s end there is little profit, if any.  We strive to be a break-even business that pours our earnings and revenue into the local communities by providing more training, education and helping them expand their markets.

The artisans are paid up front for their work. When they deliver to our centers, the purchase is recorded and reviewed the following day, and they are paid the day after that. We pay up front and on time for the products, regardless of customer cancellations or defects.

Let’s hear from some of our artisans directly on how creating socially responsible products has changed their lives.

“Weaving has uplifted my life. As a result, I try to uplift the lives of other women. I was elected to serve on a council of women in my sector, where I advocate for the development and advancement of women in my community. In the past, women in Rwanda stayed at home, but now society is encouraging women to develop their own skills." 

- Eugenie Nyanzira

“I rose and became a leader because people trusted me and I was always responsible. I inspire my community as a successful single mother and hope to send my daughter to a university when she finishes secondary school.”

- Speciose Mukakibibi

At KAZI, we sell beautiful home decor products that stand on their own as works of art. We’ve been able to create employment for 3,600 artisans, impacting more than 19,000 family members and 100,000 community members across Rwanda, Uganda, and Ghana. We're proud not only of the products we sell, but the artisans who make them.

 

Socially Responsible Shopping Made Easy

Global artisan work is notoriously unregulated, underserved, and unprotected, so we’re proud to carry the Nest Seal of Ethical Handcraft on our Rwanda and Uganda products. This is the highest standard for assessing artisan homeworker production and supply chains. We’re one of only 5 companies to carry this seal.

We take care of our artisans by adhering to the highest standards in worker rights and wellbeing, child advocacy and protection, fair compensation and benefits, worker safety, and responsible environmental care.

“Fair trade” and “socially responsible” are much more than trendy buzzwords: they’re a global business practice that directly change the lives and communities of incredibly talented artisans in developing countries.

With every dollar you spend, you’re casting a vote on how you want the world to be, so seek out responsible companies that are committed to social change and want to positively impact the world.

 

KAZI products don’t just look good, they’re made in a way you can feel good about. Buying a KAZI product is a responsible investment to positively impact the lives of artisans and their communites in developing countires. Read more about the Nest Seal, hear more artisan stories, or check out our collection of beautifully handcrafted home decor products.