Shop for Change Fair Trade (SFC) was set up by IRFT and Traidcraft to launch a new Fair Trade label for the Indian domestic market.  SFC invited Zameen and other producer organisations to contribute to the consultation process around communication and I travelled to Mumbai last week to share Zameen’s thoughts on messaging. SFC introduced the new label and their excellent PR agency LinOpinion, which will be working closely with SFC over the coming years The new Shop for Change logo

The certification mark will look different from the internationally recognised FAIRTRADE Mark, just as the standards differ from FLO’s (they are more tailored to the specific needs of Indian producers and artisans).  There is little doubt that India’s so-called burgeoning middle class is now fully fledged, but is India ready to embrace Fair Trade?

There was some discussion about the difficulty of persuading a famously sceptical nation about a new and challenging concept.  Everyone agreed that we shouldn’t shy away from the core messaging of Fair Trade, but meet this challenge head on.  I was encouraged by the presentation by IRFT as they have received positive responses to their initial promotional work around Shop for Change.  IRFT produced a fantastic film to introduce the concept of Fair Trade to Indian audiences, which was shown free of charge in cinemas in India.  This reminded me of my experience at the Fairtrade Foundation in the UK; despite how big it’s grown, it still gets freebees and is pushed forward by volunteer power because once people get it, they tend to support it.

Paul, Zameen Comms Manager

One of our key partners, Pants to Poverty, spearheaded a campaign to ban endosulfan, a particularly nasty and unnecessary pesticide.  Bringing together international celebrities, textile workers and farmers, consumers and organisations like Pesticide Action Network and Organic Exchange, the group set its targets on the Bayer Group and the Indian Government.  Both profit from endosulfan’s production in the developing world, though it is banned in 62 countries (including the EU).

As all Zameen farmers are pesticide-free and have seen their own health improving, they were very interested when we told them about the campaign and wanted to know how they could contribute. I talked about the campaign actions taking place around the world and together we drafted a letter to a broadsheet in the UK. I also agreed to visit them in the field to spread the word amongst more farmers.  I went to Amravati in Maharashtra, bringing together a group of 75 farmers to take part in their own ‘bad pants amnesty’ at the same time as others taking place across the world on 7 July 2009.

Farmers get together to post their pants to Bayer

Farmers get together to post their pants to Bayer

Sandip Kuthe, a farmer who features in Zameen’s case study on pesticide free farming practices, had suffered terrible burns when spraying his cotton after his backpack split open.  Sandip is also something of a star, acting in local plays.  I explained that Pants to Poverty wanted to commission a farmer teaser to add to their collection of video virals for their Panteater campaign and he jumped at the chance – quite literally jumped out of his seat!  The Panteater is a mythical beast which evolved from eating ‘bad pants’ grown with pesticides (the average pair of non-organic pants contains 10ml of pesticides).  I shot the film with him and another farmer, Ashish Mahalle, with Sandip adding fantastic adlibs!  I think it’s great that he used his own artistic expression to hit back at the big boys who have scarred him with chemical burns.

The best bit is that the farmer won!  Bayer announced the following week that it would phase out endosulfan over the next 18 months.  Great result, but now all our attentions are focused on the Indian Government, which uses its weight to prevent a global ban, whilst also being a manufacturer of endosulfan!  The fight continues…

Paul, Zameen’s Comms Manager

Moving to India was a big decision, but after a fine send off from my friends at the Fairtrade Foundation where I worked in the Press Office for almost two years, I was more than curious to see how Fairtrade works on the ground.

I’m joining Zameen at an exciting time, with new staff (including myself as Zameen’s first Communications Manager and a new Cotton General Manager role), brand new offices shared with AOFG (Zameen’s sister NGO) for closer working, and a new internship programme bringing in skills and talent from the Netherlands to Vietnam!  There’s also a total revamp of Zameen’s image underway, with a new logo and rebranding exercise.

My first few weeks have been non-stop!  Some of the highlights so far include meeting with TransFair USA to talk about the development of Fairtrade garment standards for the US market (currently no Fairtrade cotton is sold in the US) and travelling to Indore in North India to learn about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) from Organic Exchange. KPIs can help us demonstrate the social and environmental benefits of organic farming and also help the farmers track their progress and be aware of areas that need improvement.

I have also been to the field to take photos of the sowing season and met the newly elected members of the Producer Executive Body (PEB) in Hyderabad.  The PEB oversees investment of the Fairtrade premium money and they came together to learn book keeping skills and Fairtrade Labelling Organisation (FLO) standards for certified farming organisations.


Newly elected farmer leaders learn about FLO standards

There’s lots more still ahead, with a website relaunch, media work and the farmers’ AGM in the pipeline – so watch this space!

Paul, Zameen Comms Manager

Zameen is a unique farmer-owned Fairtrade and organic cotton trading company working to improve market access for marginalised farmers in India through certification, supply chain partnerships and organisational development.  Fields of Dreams is your behind the scenes peek at how we work with farmers to shape Zameen’s direction and get more of the value locked in your clothes back to the farmers.

All Zameen farmers are Fairtrade certified, which guarantees a stable minimum price and a social premium (an additional sum) which is democratically invested in projects that benefit the whole community.  With Fairtrade, there is no exploitation or child labour, there is empowerment and movement towards gender equality.

Zameen farms are pesticide-free and are either organic certified or in organic conversion.  This adds value to the farmers’ crops and cuts their input costs in half.  Cutting out agrochemicals also improves farmer health and soil quality, reduces green house gas emissions and helps the local environment.

Zameen chose to set up in Southern India because of the terrible farmer suicide epidemic that has swept across the region fuelled by unmanageable debt.  Zameen farmers do not need to take on loans to buy expensive, dangerous and often ineffective chemicals. They can finally escape the clutches of moneylenders and enjoy dignified, self-sustaining livelihoods.

As shareholders, Zameen farmers make decisions about the direction of their business as well as sharing in the profits.  Follow their journey from small-holders exploited by unfair trade to independent international businesspeople with a mission to clean up the textile trade.

Paul, Zameen Comms Manager