WHAT IT MEANS TO BE
La Paz, BOLIVIA (October 2001): Javier Choque, squattedin the corner of a dusty Bolivian store, surrounded by thick hand knit sweaters and woven tapestries,conferring in the native language of Quechua with Maria Elena Choque de Mamani, representative of thewomen’s cooperative that makes the sweaters for Choque’s company, Kusikuy (pronounced koo-see’-kwee).
“Walejlla” he said in Quechua, “it is good.” Poncesmiled. In accordance with Fair Trade requirements,Choque had taught Ponce a new seam stitch to be used in the Kusikuy sweaters. Choque had also converted standard US sizes into metrics and created a sizing system that the largely illiterate women could understand and use.
"Fair trade acceptance is a grueling process,”explained Kusikuy partner, Tamara Stenn de Choque. Toqualify for fair trade status, a business mustdemonstrate that their products are made in an environmentally sustainable fashion, workers are paida fair wage, working conditions are healthy and safe, technical assistance is being provided, and long termtrade relationships are being built.
The Kusikuy knitters are such wonderful women,”stated Stenn de Choque. “So full of life and eager tolearn!” The women had formed the cooperative 12 yearsago and already had exports to Spain. Today they continue to manage their own coop, the purchasing ofraw material (natural llama and alpaca wool),coordination of work schedules, and accounting. Kusikuy encourages the women to remain independent and hopes to soon have members pooling their earnings toset up a lending cooperative for community projects.Choque, a Bolivian native himself communicates directly to the cooperative in their native language. The women of the cooperative, like Choque’s family,are rural farmers living on the high altiplano (plain) of the Andes Mountains. Most manage small farms at11,000 to 14,000 feet above sea level caring for cows and sheep while cultivating potatoes, wheat and quinoa, an Andean grain high in protein.
Kusikuy is a word form the 5,000 year old Quechua language which translates to, “make yourself happy.” The Choques like to say, “buy a sweater and ‘make yourself happy.’”
Founded in 1997 in Bolivia, one of the poo rest countries in Latin America, Kusikuy is one example of the growing number of businesses that are choosing to become Fair Trade companies.
There are several alternative trade organizations(ATOs) worldwide, that are dedicated to promoting FairTrade. One is the Fair Trade Federation Started in the late1980s, the Fair Trade Federation is a growing association of companies, “who are committed fair wages and employment opportunities tolow-income artisans and farmers, worldwide,” as stated in their newsletter and web site.
To join the Fair Trade Federation, businesses mustdemonstrate that workers are paid a living wage, theirpractices are environmentally sustainable, long termrelationships are being built, work conditions are safe and healthy, and financial and technical assistance is provided.
“What this means,” explained Choque’s business partner, Tamara Stenn, “is that the native women making our sweaters can live how they choose. The sweaters are made by hand, at home, of natural, local materials (llama and alpaca wool) and the designs arethe women’s own creations. Each sweater is one of akind. Extra income earned from knitting is used to purchase shoes and school books for the children andmore nutritious food for the family.
The International Federation for Alternative Trade a global network of 158 Fair Trade organizations in 50 countries, and the European FairTrade Association are two other ATOs who lobby governments and promote to the public the practice of Fair Trade. There is a growing demand for Fair Trade products by consumers as they become more aware of the benefits of buying Fair Trade. Since Fair Trade involves working directly with the producers, the middle-man is knockedout and prices are more reasonable. Additionally, consumers report feeling good knowing that their purchase is directly helping someone else and creatinga more sustainable world.
Written by: Tamara Stenn, Kusikuy
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