Fair trade artisans, Lima, Peru

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.

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A couple of the CIAP staff

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.

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Pachamama tourist poster, in French

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.

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Moner, with a ready laugh, reminded me of a long-forgotten cartoon character

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.

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Maleni, co-ordinator, PR, and chief smiler

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.

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Jorge, CIAP President

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?”.

 

K’antu fair trade shop, Puno, Peru

Tucked away in an old courtyard, the centuries-old casa del corregidor (the mayor’s house) now serves as a little courtyard housing some of Puno’s socially-minded businesses.

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Casa del Corregidor: for socially-minded businesses

A couple of travel agents and a fantastic cafe can be reached via the peaceful courtyard.

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If only I had this in my neighbourhood

But tucked to the right of the main entrance was the surprising find, k’antu. It was, as the sign proudly displays, a fair trade shop.

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K’antu: a fair trade shop

K’antu is a retail part of the organisation CIAP (Central Interregional de Artisanos) that for more than 20 years has tried to assist the more vulnerable people (women in particular) in various parts of Peru, particularly around Puno and Lima, the capital. Individual members of CIAP are organised into associations that typically comprise around 15-20 members. Nearly three-quarters of CIAP members are female. In the Puno region there are about eight different associations.

William Flores is the manager at k’antu and when he wasn’t chatting to one of his local artisan members, he gave me an insight into k’antu’s origins.

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William, the manager, talking with a local artisan

Puno is a relatively poor region. The idea of the k’antu shop was to try to take advantage of the tourism in the area and create a space to sell the products made by local artisans.

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Bertha prices up some local crafts

It’s membership of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) ensures that all the producers are paid a fair price for the products they create.

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K’antu shop entrance, proudly showing its WFTO membership

Using local materials, the biggest sellers here are clothing (made from alpaca and llama wool), jewellery and handicrafts. Each product carries a WFTO label, the name of the artisan who made it and the association name they belong to. In our virtually-connected world it felt more appropriate that I was able to connect to a real person by buying an item from k’antu and supporting fairly the livelihoods of people who’ve lived here for generations.

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A map of the area shows where the local artisans live
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A sign outside the shop explains what the organisation is

And what better way to finish up a hard afternoon’s shopping than with a cup of local fair trade coffee sat outside in the sunshine.

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Good cafe. Good coffee
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Enjoying a cup of fair trade coffee at the cafe next door