Fair Trade

I have been importing handicrafts from Bali since 1989. Back then a popular slogan was 'trade not aid' which suggested that trading with developing countries was an attractive alternative to aid in that it would help their economy to grow, generating wealth that would, in time, filter through to the whole population and avoid the need for aid whilst allowing its population to retain their pride and give them hope for the future. Whilst sounding a little idealistic I believe that the handicraft industry in Bali has helped greatly to improve the living standards of all on the Island and fulfil this sentiment.

In the neighbouring island of Java, and most developing countries in the world, this has often not been the case. Large companies have used their power (as the only employer in a particular area) to take advantage of the local workforce with no (or ineffective) legislation to stop them. In many cases this has meant the workforce being paid unliveably low wages and working in dangerous or unhealthy environments with widespread use of child labour.

The above has not occurred in Bali probably because of the lack of any large scale industry. The trade in Bali is generally small scale cottage industries (often family based) selling to Western individuals or small companies based in the West. Typically an importer will buy off of many suppliers negotiating a price with them using the traditional system of barter or he will be quoted a business price which the supplier may or may not be prepared to reduce. Any importer will know the 'right price' for the goods he is buying and that is the price he will agree to pay. A supplier will have a premises (usually a retail shop) where he will get to meet importers. His workshop will usually be in separate premises but may be at the rear of the shop. The wages the supplier will pay to his workers will be the accepted 'going rate' in force for that kind of work. If the importer will not agree to pay the correct price then the supplier will not be able to supply the goods or will supply goods of a lower quality that can be made more cheaply. Child labour is not involved in the actual manufacture of handicrafts. Probably this is due to the high level of skill required but mainly due to the fact that the population is sufficiently wealthy to send their children to school where, it is acknowledged, they belong. Occasionally children get involved in non-skilled tasks such as polishing wood carvings but this is generally done outside school hours with no effect on their schooling. Working conditions are always good being in a workshop as opposed to a factory environment and often in the open air (weather permitting). Balinese people have a very placid and courteous nature and this is reflected in the way they treat their workers. The hours worked in a week are not long (workers always finish in the late afternoon). Sundays and numerous days are taken off each year for the many ceremonies associated with their religion.

There are some importers of Balinese goods who claim that the workers who manufacture their goods receive better pay than others implying (or saying) that they have their own workshops. This is very unlikely to be true. Due to the highly specialised nature of the skills involved a small importer with a product range of say 500 different lines would need a factory/workshops employing upwards of 1,000 workers. The same company would be employing a workforce of say only 5 employees in his own country! If they were to pay more to their suppliers to pass on to the workers they would have no way ensuring that was being done and would have to be extremely naive to believe it would be. In any event consumers in the West, particularly these days, are very price conscious and if an importer were to increase his overheads by paying higher wages than other importers he would not be able to remain competitive and his business would decline thus reducing his capacity for such acts of benevolence. (This does not apply if the company involved is a registered charity).

To summarise, I can only accurately comment on the situation in Bali as I don't import from anywhere else. A lot of the handmade goods for sale in the West are made in Bali but the consumer should be clear as to where the goods are being made. If the goods are made in Bali then whatever the claims of the importer he is unlikely to be either a good or bad importer and by buying these beautiful hand-crafted goods, no-one is being exploited and everyone wins. What's more little by little (and that is the ONLY way it can be) the standard of living of everyone involved and the wider population of the Island will continue to improve. If the consumer wishes to purchase goods made elsewhere they should be very wary of possible fair trade abuses and should be more guided by what they hear about the country of manufacture from independent sources than spurious claims by those with a vested interest in making such claims.

The Environment

As the goods I wholesale are handmade and not mass produced in factories there is very little to harm caused to the local environment. The types of wood that I use for most of my handicrafts are from sustainable sources. Occasionally I use hard wood but, these days, its supply is very rigorously controlled with the manufacturer having to go through many government channels to obtain the wood. It was not always so difficult and large companies have made large amounts of money by importing from so called 'properly managed' rainforests at a time when no such rainforests existed. The signed piece of paper such companies required probably cost a packet of cigarettes but was worth a lot more. Just one more example of how importers are able to use the consumers ignorance to their advantage.


Everything I have said above is my honest opinion based on my knowledge gained through importing from Bali since 1989. The statements I have made have been made without prejudice and, if you feel, I have been inaccurate or unfair in any of my statements I would welcome your comments which I will be happy to respond to.

Nicholas Turner,