Does fair trade really change lives?

This is a guest blog post by Chelsea Hudson. Hudson is a mother of three girls, wedding and portrait photographer, passionate abolitionist, and a ONE Mom. Her passion for justice and ending human trafficking led her to start the website Do a Little Good. Photography by Chelsea Hudson Photography.

Does fair trade really change lives?

As a fair trade advocate and someone who plans and organizes large fair trade holiday shopping events, I felt I needed to see the “other” side of the fair trade coin – the producer side.

This past January, I kissed my three babies goodbye, packed my camera gear, and traveled to south India to spend a week with a social enterprise company called Daughters of Hope India, started by my friends Dylan and Molly Fila. Daughters manufactures custom products for retail in the United States, like these pillowcases on the right.

All of their products are fair trade and are made using local Indian fabrics and materials. Each product comes with a woman’s story of breaking out of the cycle of poverty.

I wanted to see the faces and hear the stories I was promoting and praising. I wanted to understand the process and see exactly how fair wages can indeed change lives in the developing world. Thankfully, I was invited into the Daughters community and spent a week listening, watching and documenting their stories.

Being an uneducated poor girl in India leads to a life of being given off to marriage at a very young age. Girls are viewed as burdens, and poor families often try to give away their daughters to someone who accepts the cheapest dowry.

This leads to girls being trafficked and bought and sold like possessions. These women have never felt valued enough to be educated or taken care of, much less celebrated for who they are. As Christian company, the vision at Daughters is to equip and empower these women as well as point them to the One who has created them for a purpose!

Daughters of Hope has a two-month training program where they will train any woman in tailoring.  After the two months, they are hired on as professional tailors to work in the company and make home décor items for export to the US.

Aside from the job and fair wages, women receive health care, a savings plan, free child care and lunch.  Their free childcare program helps marginalized and poor women in India who cannot otherwise join programs like Daughters because they have small children or babies to care for. The childcare room is decorated by a beautiful, colorful, imaginative mural and has dedicated workers caring for the children.

In addition to this, Daughters offers a free after-school homework program for the school-aged children. These are kids that would end up going to their home alone after school because their parents are working, which would be a very dangerous situation, especially for the girls. Daughters provides a tutor to help the kids with homework while they wait for their mothers to finish work.

In July 2014, they will be starting a non-profit vocational training center, called Daughters of Hope Project (DHOP) for girls between the ages of 15 to 20 years.

The Filas have had many people in the community as well as those who run girls orphanages approach them about girls that they would like them to take on at Daughters, girls who are aging out of a home or orphanage with no other prospects in sight. However, according to Indian law, they cannot hire anyone at the business until they are 18 years old.

So this vocational training center will be geared towards at-risk girls in order to prevent trafficking and exploitation that inevitably happens at this tender age.  They will receive a year of training at the center, in sewing, computer and English training and go on to work at Daughters of Hope when they are at least 18 years old.

After experiencing first-hand the operations of fair trade organizations like Daughters of Hope, I firmly believe that purchasing fair trade is measurably changing someone’s life for good. I am more committed than ever to continue to advocate for these kinds of companies. What a JOY it is, as a consumer, to know that my purchasing power and choices can indeed make the world a better place, starting with one woman’s life and her story.

To read more stories about the women at Daughters, check out Do A Little Good.

What do you think? Does fair trade really change lives?