Love like you've never been hurt.
Dance like nobody's watching.
- Satchel Paige
Unobserved and unimpeded,
For me, the experience in Malaysia has proven to be a pinnacle of achievement; the application of lessons learned over the past five months culminated in the launch of a national Fair Trade Movement. A day I will cherish for a lifetime! The idea to create an awareness raising movement in Malaysia came through discussions with Dr. Mike Thair and his wife, Linh of Indochine Natural Handmade Soap. They had been following my blog and presenting me with thought provoking commentary along the way. This turned into a discourse on how to create a national Fair Trade Movement that could be applied in the Malaysian social and political context.
For Fair Trade to be Sustainable,
This Vision Must be Realized
Rampant alcoholism and drug abuse are common methods of escape. Perpetual fear of being shaken down for what little cash they have by local police, and the constant threat of being detained and shipped off to detention centers is enough to wear down the nerves of any human being. Employment is tenuous at best, and with no job security Burmese men are frequently exploited and cheated out of wages. Worse yet is that they are living under the constant threat of having their children targeted by pimps, traffickers and pedophiles due to the lack of legal and police protection. Life quickly becomes one of self-imprisonment behind locked doors with few outside connections beyond those who can be trusted.
I had the opportunity to meet with two groups, the Chin Women and Children's Center making hand woven textiles and Kaoprise Beauty producing high quality, all natural hand-made soaps. I purchased several! True to his form and committed to the practices of Fair Trade, Dr. Mike Thair has been assisting the soap-making venture providing technical assistance and business advice.
The groundwork to generate interest in this Malaysian Initiative was greatly assisted by the efforts of like-minded souls who had established an informal network already. I had the great opportunity to meet with Sze Ning, co-founder of Elevyn, an online Fair Trade shop where Tanma products can be purchased directly!
When visiting the Chin Women and Children's Center where they were making woven handbags and hand-knitted dolls, I saw a young girl with her mother. She must have been about six years old, and the doll her mother had just completed was actively being hugged and loved. If this were an example of child labor, I can think of no better way to value-add to a Fair Trade doll than having it pre-approved in the loving arms of a six year-old with the most beautiful smile that lights up an entire room. In the midst of darkness, Tanma truly gives a glimmer of hope.
In addition to setting out to bring like-minded and enlightened souls together to start a Fair Trade initiative, this journey to Malaysia was also a reunion. In 2009, I resided in KL for six months and during that time made a few life-long friends who turned up in my list of people to connect with to start this initiative.
Nooreen Preusser is an enlightened being, kindred spirit, close friend and Director of P.S. The Children, a child-centered Child Rights organization that had a tremendous impact on me when I participated in a Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Course in 2009. Whether or not child sexual abuse is acknowledged by a state or religious establishment as a social problem, it is a universal occurrence that permeates all nationalities regardless of ethnicity or religion. Ignoring it only sanctions the abuse and facilitates the abuser. The only way to prevent it is to raise awareness of this issue to protect our children. I believe Fair Trade is a necessary platform from which to combat child labor, prevent child sexual abuse, and promote children's rights to education, play, health and safety.
In the midst of motivating, mobilizing, planning and reuniting, I received a call from a reporter from The Star, Malaysia's leading English newspaper. Leong Siok Hui, a senior reporter asked a few direct questions that implied she was well versed in Fair Trade, and afterwards, asked if I had attended the University of Montana in the USA - as it turns out, we were classmates in the same Japanese language class. Little did I expect this reunion!
The Start of a National Fair Trade Initiative
|The Founding Members of the Malaysian Fair Trade Initiative,|
in all there were about twenty!
Because those in attendance had an understanding of Fair Trade, we did not need to cover the basics, and instead we dove headlong into our purpose. After a round of self-introductions, I seperated them into small groups to work together in a warm-up task:
- Describe what is the Malaysian Fair Trade Initiative about
- Identify a common aim - "What is our message?"
- Suggest possible names for this initiative
|Darren of JustLife explains the importance of raising awareness|
of Fair Trade with consumers and at all levels of the supply chain
- Fair Trade as a social movement and ethical business model versus a charity
- Empowerment as a human right
- The Global Movement of Fair Trade
- The difference between FLO-Cert and the World Fair Trade Organization, and the synergy of the global movement
- Global and regional strategies of WFTO and WFTO-Asia
- Concerns over the chasm between the NGO sector and the private sector, and how Fair Trade straddles the gap
- Practical limitations faced by producers, and changing expectations of buyers
- The need for efficiency to be economically viable as a successful business venture
- Experiences shared in working with marginalized communities
- Obstacles faced by retailers in sourcing and supply
- Common business practices in Malaysia and how to apply Fair Trade as a practical business model while being competitively priced on the market
- and so on...
We set a second meeting date for Wednesday, May 25th to keep the momentum going and give enough time for the issues covered and lessons learned settle in. If you are in Malaysia and are interested in becoming part of something that is far greater than the sum of its members and far reaching on a global scale, join this grass-roots initiative! Unfortunately my Journey must go on to Vietnam, however I am confident what was initiated on April 30th will have a lasting impact on a nation!
The Founding Members of the Malaysian Fair Trade Initiative also include:
|A non-profit Christian organization |
committed to serving the poor and needy.
On this World Fair Trade Day, Saturday, May 14th, I encourage readers of this blog to unite with other like-minded and enlightened souls to bring change to your community, particularly if you are not already involved in a Fair Trade Movement. If you are involved in World Fair Trade Day events, read Catalysts for Social Change and bring a printout of the Fair Trade Advocacy Matrix with you to discuss ways to expand Fair Trade in your neighborhood, your town, your city, your state and your country! Regardless of where you are, you can make a change! If you are inspired by this blog, I am looking for a Few Good Catalysts to join me in creating Fair Trade Movements on World Fair Trade Day!
Donate to the WFTO Today
As for myself, this has been a completely self-funded and self-motivated inquiry. There have been no strings attached to what I post and I am beholden to no one other than the producers of Fair Trade products by my own accord. My intention is to compile my journey and the findings of my inquiry into a publication to be sold at your local Fair Trade shop or local socially conscious retailer. Soon enough I will be looking for a few good publishers...