Labour of love

A kiwi not-for-profit com­pany Trade Aid has been in the busi­ness of sell­ing the wares of ar­ti­sans in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries for 40 years. Founder Vi Cot­trell talks to El­e­ment.

Element - - The Cause - By Re­becca Barry Hill

One of the perks of the job for Trade Aid founder Vi Cot­trell is trav­el­ling to meet the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s trad­ing part­ners in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries. “It’s a chance to make sure the in­for­ma­tion we have about them is up to date, talk about is­sues that may have arisen but mostly to un­der­stand their as­pi­ra­tions, and what kind of progress they’re mak­ing to­wards that,” says Cot­trell, who has just re­turned from two weeks in In­dia and In­done­sia.

Im­pact stud­ies are reg­u­larly car­ried out but Cot­trell says in-per­son meet­ings are much more ben­e­fi­cial as she gets to wit­ness the im­pact first­hand, pick­ing up on in­tan­gi­ble clues such as body lan­guage be­tween work­ers.

“It’s im­por­tant be­cause what we’re telling the pub­lic has to be ac­cu­rate but also be­cause re­sources are lim­ited and we want to be sure we’re work­ing with part­ners where pro­duc­ers re­ally get the ben­e­fit.”

It’s been 40 years since Cot­trell, orig­i­nally a teacher, and her hus­band, Richard, a lawyer, started the not­for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion. Trade Aid now im­ports over 3000 global prod­ucts, which are sold to a net­work of over 30 Trade Aid shops around New Zealand, on­line, and to or­ganic re­tail­ers, su­per­mar­kets and cafes. The or­gan­i­sa­tion works with 75 pro­ducer part­ners throughout Africa, Asia and Latin Amer­ica to cre­ate op­por­tu­ni­ties and ease poverty for dis­ad­van­taged com­mu­ni­ties through sus­tain­able in­come gen­er­a­tion. These are com­mu­ni­ties in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries that can­not com­pete with the vast com­mer­cial prod­ucts from the Western world.

“Twenty-five years ago, some­one once showed me a pair of crooked ear­rings, and I said, ‘No­body is go­ing to buy those in New Zealand’,” says Cot­trell. “And the maker said: ‘But you’re all so rich, you can buy what­ever you want.’ That at­ti­tude had to change.”

Since then, the qual­ity has im­proved to the ex­tent that traders keep up with in­ter­na­tional de­sign trends. Cot­trell has also no­ticed an in­crease in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries con­fronting cli­mate change, and pay­ing at­ten­tion to which dyes are used, and how they are dis­posed of. Sev­eral trad­ing part­ners have also set up tree-plant­ing pro­grammes, such as teak plan­ta­tions in Java.

An im­pact study un­der­taken in Kash­mir re­vealed that the chil­dren whose par­ents were in­volved with Trade Aid were 95 per cent more likely to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion be­yond the pri­mary school years.

“I asked a woman there ‘how do you feel when you save and pay for their ed­u­ca­tion and then there’s no jobs at the end of it?’ which is very com­mon. She said, ‘I am blind, I am il­lit­er­ate, I see noth­ing. But my chil­dren are lit­er­ate and they see’.”

Aware­ness of women’s le­gal rights, health is­sues, pro­duc­tion cy­cles, de­sign, and gain­ing ac­cess to the in­ter­net has also im­proved. Cot­trell is grate­ful too, that Trade Aid, and their part­ners, have weath­ered the re­ces­sion storm, de­spite or­ders in parts of In­dia halved by 50 per cent.

“It’s just as­ton­ish­ing what they can do with so lit­tle re­sources.”

A woman in a weavers’ co­op­er­a­tive based in Ra­jasthan, In­dia

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