Two weeks ago, I posted this video about the reality of sex work in Bangladesh. Reactions to something heavy & sad like this can be varied: one key response being discouragement.
Plainly: yes. Of course this is true.
How can I make a difference in the face of big problems? We can be tempted to stick our heads in the sand, because otherwise the scale of issues becomes all too overwhelming.
There is also an undercurrent in our culture that says it must be “all or nothing.” Anything in between is slapped with the greatest of insults: hypocrisy. Words without actions are meaningless, and even worse: an action that in any way betrays your words is crucible!
I obviously don’t think well-intentioned people should be puffed up with big talk and no action (raising awareness, anyone?). But, I also disagree with such a simplified reaction. In reality, we live in constant tensions!
So,how can we move from overwhelmed to empowered?
I have often mentioned when discussing dignify & my work that I, personally, am more focused on the business aspect than the social justice results.
Partly this is because of my skills, interests, & affinities: my background is in marketing, I love visual aesthetics & design, and I am a jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none personality that lends itself well to small business.
I also mention this to people partly because it brings things down to earth. When you tell someone you are working in “fair trade” and employing women who have been trafficked and sexually exploited, they tend to feel overwhelmed and somehow inferior. But I am no saint. I am a very unremarkable person, doing something I really enjoy, that happens to have very significant & remarkable results.
So, I keep my head down, focus on what I know (well, and on a lot of things I don’t know – running a business is like doing 18 jobs at once): photographing blankets, mailing packages, creative marketing, etc. Sure, I think about the women involved – I see their names, receive pictures from their office, & marvel over their handiwork.
But I forget about why they are there, at Basha, in that office, stitching their names.
I couldn’t watch it in one sitting. It is grave and it is true. As Basha wrote, “If you want to know why we work tirelessly to make sure Basha can expand throughout Bangladesh, this will show you why. It is graphic, it is disturbing, but it is an amazingly candid view of what is happening here. It ends stating the fact that once embroiled in prostitution, there is little to no chance of leaving. This is what Basha is changing, one blanket, one bracelet, at a time.”
I recently received a very direct and honest question: A friend had popped into a well-known fair trade shop and noticed that they were selling the same type of kantha-stitched throws as she had just purchased from dignify…for $24 less. “Of course I support you,” she affirmed, “but it might make someone ask… why are yours $98?”
Of course, I had heard vaguely about this before, and I knew from the start of the project that the cost-to-sale price of our blankets were considered “less than ideal” for importers/sellers like me. But I didn’t know the details, and I didn’t have an answer. Now I was asking, too! Not because I thought $98 was high, but because knowing that it takes at least 4 days of labour to make one throw, how could they sell them for so little?
Well, as Robin, the managing director of BASHA – who make our blankets – said: “There seems to be a wide range of what people in Bangladesh call ‘fair trade’.”
She offered many insights into the industry and how others, including that specific producer, compare to her operation. Read on for a more detailed look (in her own words) at the operation behind our own “fair trade” kantha blankets.