Recently, I received an email from a customer who expressed concern over whether the value of our blankets is legitimately “ethical”. With so many places to find kantha on the web from etsy to Amazon – and at a wide range of prices – what makes dignify’s blankets worth the value? Are we simply using the word “ethical” as a marketing scheme?
It sounds a bit cynical, sure, but these questions are valid & reasonable – the questions we should be asking. Not just of social enterprises, but of everyone for whom we open our wallets.
As a self-run business from an admitted amateur, I realized that while the stories of Basha (our producing partner) and dignify are thoroughly integrated in my operations and thought process, I haven’t always communicated them adequately.
But the truth is, Basha is the real deal! It is run by caring leaders who guide the artisans, and teach them, and check on them when they don't show up at work, and run workshops for their husbands about why not to beat them. It is a good place.
An acquaintance just contacted me after her husband, who works in prosthetics, had traveled to Bangladesh for some work & training. Her words:
“He managed to stop at the Basha facility and was completely blown away. He and the fellow he travelled with were almost in tears by the kids' affection for them. They had a tour and bought some blankets. Absolutely LOVED it! “
For more specifics, I have tried to address some great questions & concerns below. Please feel free to comment or contact us for more discussion on these or other questions.
> Here is what we've said on the subject before. It is a great primer on wages, benefits, and product quality of our blankets. It is also over two years old!
Why Aren’t Your Blankets Fair Trade Certified?
There is a reason why dignify uses the term “ethical” rather than “fair trade” when referring to our blankets.
To be certified as fair trade, a business first has to qualify in its own country to the national fair trade network, then further by the international body. The application in Bangladesh was ~80 pages in length; each of these applications also carry a cost. As consumers, this is excellent news, as it means that not just any organization can be certified. But, on the business side, it poses a challenge for businesses like Basha who use all of their money to pay women's wages, and have few spare administrative hours.
At this point, Basha has been accepted into Bangladesh's local entity, Ecota Fair Trade Federation, and is working on their application for the WFTO. This includes attending training sessions and working on the application, all of which require time & money.
However, Basha has incorporated fair trade principles into their values from the very beginning. You can read here about the 10 fair trade principles and how Basha’s operations support each one.
What About Foreigners? What about the Bangladeshi Women – Isn’t it Better if They’re Empowered to Run their own Business?
The managing director at Basha is named Robin Seyfert. She is a social worker by trade who initially began her work in Bangladesh with MCC, working directly with women trapped in, but wanting new life away from, the sex trade. Currently, she runs the Basha operation, which also employs 3 other foreigners: all of whom are not paid by the revenue of the business.
While the vision of micro-financing and self-motivated entrepreneurship is excellent, in this circumstance, there are too many barriers for most of these women for this option. Many of the women are still reconciling severe trauma (or have other barriers to employment) and need leaders to care for them and help them to simply work.
Women who are motivated and excellent in their work absolutely do advance to management roles within Basha. This is welcomed - there is certainly enough work to be done!
Where Does the Money Go when I Buy a Blanket?
The price of a Basha product pays for:
- A fair wage to the woman who made it, based on local standards and cost of living (fairwageguide.org)
- On-site day care where children have a safe and stimulating environment. Plus, support for their education (tutoring if they are in school) and two healthy snacks a day (rice and lentils, noodles, eggs, milk, peanut butter).
- Medical support, including on-site nurse visits and payment for 50-100% for their medical costs. (medications are often overused, hence the 50%; but, for example, with an employee’s recent heart valve replacement, 100% was covered between Basha and their nonprofit, Friends of Basha).
- Benefits, like an annual bonus & paid leave.
- A safe, sensitive work environment. Many women Basha employs would not be employable somewhere else: women with anger issues, trauma, mental health issues, etc.
- Ongoing education: 4-6 hours per week so they can continue to develop professionally and personally.
- Profit sharing: still a work-in-progress, but Basha is sorting out a formula after doing this in the past.
- Marketing and product development, allowing Basha to grow & create more jobs for women at risk and survivors of trafficking.
On dignify’s end, the price goes into making the business a viable avenue by which to distribute Basha’s products.
These are good questions with (I hope) even better answers. If you want to add to the conversation, let us know your own questions about the product, process, or people, and we would love to address them.