Shop For Change: India’s Very Own Fair Trade Certifier

Actress Vidya Malavade, Actress Shibana Azmi, Seth Petchers and Gul Panag at the launch of Anita Dongre's Shop for Change Fair Trade Collection

Anita Dongre’s show stopper wearing a wedding outfit made from Shop for Change Fair Trade certified cotton

Shop for Change brings fair trade norms to India so that poor farmers can get a fair share.

Fairtrade, a movement that promises a better deal for farmers is gaining worldwide support. Fairtrade is not just about better prices, but also about better working conditions, better environment and better cultivation practices. Overall, with Fairtrade farmers get a fair share for their harvests which helps them improve their lives.

However, with fairtrade farming comes the issue of certification. India has its very own fair trade cotton certifier called Shop for Change. It has brought fair trade norms to India, developed it according to Indian conditions and markets and partnered with mainstream brands to offer fair trade clothing to Indian consumers.

Seth Petchers, CEO, Shop for Change talked to Make Cotton Sustainable recently:

How has Shop for Change’s journey been so far?

India has seen a huge economic boom over the past 5-10 years. But while many have benefited, small scale farmers are often faced with debilitating debt and perpetual poverty. According to the World Bank, 60% of Indians depend on agriculture to make a living. Yet despite the importance of agriculture in the nation’s economy, the fact that an estimated 2 lakh farmers have committed suicide in the last 10 years out of desperation is testament to the fact that not everyone has benefited from the economic boom.

Shop for Change was created to address these issues by creating new value in supply chains and helping to ensure that it is more equitably distributed. Since developing fair trade standards for the Indian market and launching certified products in 2010 we’re steadily gaining interest and acceptance. Recently, we’ve begun test marketing certified food products – work that we’ll be expanding over the next year. We have much more work ahead of us but we’re excited about the progress we’ve made so far.

What are the main challenges faced by Indian cotton farmers?

Farmers are entrepreneurs engaged in a risky business. In addition to contending with the weather and the ups and downs of the market, farmers are often taken advantage of by unscrupulous buyers and input salesmen. They also lack access to market information, training, and the latest growing techniques that can help them lower production costs and raise productivity. Finally, most farmers operate on their own, and because of their isolation have little bargaining power with buyers or access to useful government schemes that can help them.

How do you ensure that your farmers, artisans and other workers are adhering to Fairtrade norms?

Shop for Change has developed a set of standards. We audit farmers and farmer organisations annually to ensure compliance. This is the basis of our guarantee to consumers, and also the assurance that we give to companies that want to engage in meaningful and impactful CSR programs and sustainable sourcing. More than one of our brand partners has expressed that a big benefit which Shop for Change provides to them is helping them identify a cotton source that they can feel good about.

 The Shop for Change certification system is participatory. What does that mean?

Shop for Change is striving to make its system one that is user friendly enough to accommodate farmers and farmer organizations that may not have been able to benefit from export-oriented sustainable markets. We provide a great deal of flexibility to producer organizations for demonstrating adherence to our standards and involve them in the process of deciding which way they will demonstrate compliance. That said, we are also committed to ensuring that our fair trade promise to consumers is not compromised.

Are business houses in India keen to get their fabrics certified? How has their response been so far?

Shop for Change’s proposition to Indian businesses transcends its certification services. We’re also focused on creating an opportunity for companies to differentiate their products with the Shop for Change Mark and we have the in-house expertise to help companies find a supply chain solution that is both fair trade and practical. Brands have responded well to this, and with companies including Anita Dongre’s AND Designs, Color Plus, Mother Earth, and No Nasties on Board, we see a great deal of opportunity on the horizon. Importantly, consumers are also responding well to the Shop for Change concept.  That’s the underlying driver of the business case.

What do you think can help India (which is a supplier of Fairtrade fashion) become a market of Fairtrade fashion?

I have yet to have any Indian consumer who I talk to about fair trade tell me they think it’s a bad idea. Everyone is saddened to read about yet another farmer suicide and frustrated that there is nothing they can do about. Fair trade may not be a panacea, but it surely helps farmers get a fairer deal so they can care for their families and the environment. And importantly, it’s an easy way for consumers to do their bit to help India’s farmers. With great Shop for Change certified products from mainstream brands increasingly available, it’s just a matter of spreading the word to make fair trade take off in India.

Photo Courtesy: Shop for Change

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