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Fair Trade handicrafts

Jen Metz | Thursday, November 16, 2006

The colorful beads, pots and other handicrafts for sale this week in LaFortune and the Mendoza College of Business will leave some students thinking they stumbled upon an international open-air market – and, in a sense, they have.

The handcrafted goods are from developing countries and are being sold on campus this week as an opportunity for students to learn about Fair Trade and the artisans behind the crafts.

The shops, open today in the Dooley Room of LaFortune and tomorrow in the Mendoza Atrium from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., are co-sponsored by the Office of International Studies, International Student Services and Activities and the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in collaboration with Ten Thousand Villages – an organization that provides income for artisans by telling their stories and selling their goods in North America.

Assistant Director of International Student Services and Activities Connie Peterson-Miller said she hopes the shops will “educate people about the mission of Ten Thousand Villages and the overarching concept of fair trade.”

The organization, which began in 1946, now operates at about 100 retail outlets throughout the U.S., including six stores in Indiana. One of the world’s largest fair trade organizations, it has built relationships with more than 100 artisan groups and more than 30 countries in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Central and South America.

“[We hope that students] will understand a little better the cultural and economic contexts under which the artisans produce these handcrafts,” Peterson-Miller said.

Often artisans from these developing countries are not paid enough to plan for their future. Fair Trade, according to the Ten Thousand Villages’ Web site, can help artisans “see hope for the future, earn dignity and respect in their community and experience joy in being able to provide for their families.”

Money from the campus markets’ sales goes to Ten Thousand Villages, which returns as much of the income as possible to the artisans.

Ten Thousand Villages is part of a worldwide organization called the International Fair Trade Association, which supports fair trade as “an alternate approach to conventional international trade,” reads the Ten Thousand Villages Web site.

The organization aims to help excluded and disadvantaged producers though “providing better trading conditions, by raising awareness and by campaigning,” Peterson-Miller said.

“Of course it’s wonderful to [just] look around, see what these handcrafts look like, maybe purchase something for a Christmas gift,” Peterson-Miller said. “[But] as part of International Education Week [we hope the shops] introduce these concepts [of Fair Trade], goods, artisans and cultures to the University campus.”