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HindustanTimes Tue,21 Oct 2014

Shop without guilt

Sumedha Deo, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, October 25, 2012
First Published: 13:36 IST(25/10/2012) | Last Updated: 16:26 IST(25/10/2012)

For those who are shelling out big bucks on gifts for all and sundry this Diwali, how about doing it while gaining do-good brownie points with fair trade initiative Shop for Change’s (SFC) Diwali food hampers?

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“For many years, Indian organisations have been exporting their products to Western fair trade markets. Now, with the boom in our economy and the growth of middle class consumerism, there is a huge, untapped opportunity within India itself to create a market for fair trade to help farmers and artisans,” says Seth Petchers, SFC’s 39-year-old CEO.

ShoppingThe hampers contain fairly sourced local produce like cashews, walnuts, honey, vanilla and even chamomile tea. As a Diwali bonus, the farmers who supply these products will get 20 per cent of the hamper’s value.

“We only work with farmer groups that are fully transparent about pricing. We also insist that these groups provide training to their members to help them lower their production costs and boost productivity, which enhances income and sustainability,” says Petchers. SFC is working with six farmer groups from across the country — Mahila Umang Producer’s Company in Uttarakhand, Nageshwara Charitable Trust in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh and the Vasundhara Agri Horti Producer Company Ltd. (VAPCOL) from Gujarat.

“Most of our members are from tribal families and we purchase raw materials like mangoes, cashews and amla from them,” says MD Sapate, honorary CEO, VAPCOL. “Our co-operative also makes finished products like pickles, jams, sherbet and candy which we sell under the Vrindavan brand.” Farmer groups undergo a rigorous certification process to be able to use the fair trade tag. “We audit the organisation on the ground to ensure that it’s working with farmers  in a way that is truly for their benefit. This means, for example, ensuring that the scales for weighing produce are weighted correctly, prices are communicated to farmers transparently and they get written receipts,” says Petchers.

For now, these hampers are available for corporate clients, but expansion plans are in the pipeline.

“Diwali gifting items are just the beginning. Our long term vision is that Indian consumers adopt a ‘fair trade lifestyle’ and we work to ensure that wherever they shop, there’s always a fair trade option for consumers to choose,” says Petchers.

Designers chip in too
Last year, designer Anita Dongre teamed up with Shop For Change for her eco-friendly label called Grass Root. Clothes under this label are made using fair trade cotton sourced from the Chetna Organic Farmers Association of Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, coloured with vegetable dyes. Anita says, “I have been supporting the fair trade of organic cotton movement. My line encompasses handlooms and handicrafts that support farmers and artisans.”

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