In Lima I took to the local bus service to see if I could reach the CIAP office (the organisation I became familiar with in Puno), obscurely located in the dusty streets of the suburb San Martin des Porres. I thought the bus ride (colectivo) would be the tricky part but when I did eventually make it I was confounded by the streets and their obscure street numbering. I don’t think the neighbourhood was used to a lost-looking gringo wandering up and down the main road, but somehow I eventually found what I was looking for.
I was warmly welcomed at CIAP; yet again I was dropping in on someone unannounced.
CIAP offered an interesting insight into all the various complexities of Fair Trade and its benefits and drawbacks. CIAP includes artisans and related organisations so is different from a straight-up coffee or cacao co-operative.
Several staff are located here who look after a variety of activities all under the CIAP umbrella. Carmen and Roxanne worked for Pachamama, a tourist operator.
Moner coordinates exports of artisan products, mostly to the USA and Europe (Intercrafts). Yesenia worked as an administrator and had only started a few months ago. She was responsible for the credit ‘part’ of CIAP, which, with three offices (Lima, Juliaca and Puno) allowed artisans to borrow money to support their businesses.
The CIAP office is the hub of all the initiatives geared towards helping poor and marginalised communities. It is particularly focused on women (72% of members are female). Since 2011 they have had fair trade certification with WFTO (World Fair Trade Organisation), nearly 20 years after its founding in 1992.
CIAP is set up differently to the other fair trade organisations I had visited, primarily because it is not a co-operative (in the way a coffee or banana co-op might be). It developed from trying to assist individual artisans and consider itself as a ‘family’ rather than a co-operative. Each artisan remains an individual member and CIAP offers support and assistance in different ways. It still has a small membership, maybe 300 or so and is formed by small associations (perhaps 15-20 people on average). Individual members are given contracts of two or three years and paid a minimum price based on hours worked. Support comes from providing resources and education (for example, what is considered the latest fashion; internet skills) to credit facilities to providing a more direct link and space to sell their products.
But it has been a difficult 20 years. It is still a struggle to ensure artisans are able to have a minimum living wage; their products are typically more expensive than others; retail locations are expensive to maintain. Indeed, two locations in Lima had closed in recent years. The shop in Puno was helped by the travel agent income located next door. However, without the help of CIAP, these artisans would be in a more vulnerable situation.
CIAP is many-faceted, but it was a sobering way to end my fair trade visits. From talking to Jorge and his staff here it was pretty clear that even with fair trade, the artisans they help still struggle in their daily lives. The image of happy producers, gainfully employed, providing for their families – the kind you often see on brochures and posters in shops in our countries – does not reflect the reality that life is often still a struggle for them. However, without fair trade support, it would be worse.
What future lay ahead? It was difficult to say. With a typical customer such as Ten Thousand Villages (in Canada) reducing the number of their stores in recent years (in Vancouver and Ottawa for example), the producers were still at the mercy of the fair trade ‘market’.
Fair trade definitely helps, says Jorge, but poverty is still endemic in these regions. Life for many of them was simply less worse than without CIAP support. Many times he had asked himself, “how do we really help?”.