Belle has been volunteering with One World Shop since last year. Like many other students, she went travelling for the summer and met up with our friend Pamela in Mauritius. Pamela visited us during Fair Trade Fortnight 2016, and spoke about how fair trade has changed her life. Since then, there have been a few changes in her work and she is now in a different (but still Fairtrade certified) workshop. Belle wrote about her experiences during her visit.
On Thursday I met with Pamela, who was eager to show my family and I around her new factory, and her home town by the beach, Flic en Flac, to meet her family.
The visit to the factory was surprising to me as it was far less "industrial" feeling than I had expected. There is a laid back atmosphere in the factory and all the staff going quietly about their work without bother. Everyone we met was friendly and unafraid to talk to us about their work, and we are given permission to take photos and chat with everyone.
When Pamela returned from her trip to England, she was shocked and devastated to discover Craft Aid had closed, leaving only a handful of their disabled employees working on sugar cane with a job. However, the operating manager at Craft Aid saw there was still a demand for Fairtrade school uniforms so he quickly set up a new factory and contracted 15 of the seamstresses from the old factory, including Pamela, who were now suddenly out of work.
The new factory is small and light, with a friendly feel to it and close to her home, although she still misses the old factory which felt like a comfortably large company and where she had many friends.
The director invited us to his office to discuss his business, philosophy and struggles.
“Everyone should be treated with kindness.”
Within four months of opening Mr Vishwaraj Maghoo had successfully received Fairtrade certification for the factory and could begin selling to Fairtrade companies such as Koolskools. The conditions in the factory are as would be expected if it was in the UK and held to UK regulations; and he firmly believes everyone should be treated with kindness.
Vishwaraj said that for him it has been a big learning curve, as he found himself in the deep end and suddenly the head of a small business. He has scheduled a trip to visit his European and UK buyers in September although he is struggling with the organisation of such a complicated trip alone.
He is learning that in order to keep his workers employed, he must run a tight business and be strict when he wishes he could be lax with employees and clients.
He said that he is filled with belief that he will grow with the company, but he will not expand the company until he believed he is capable and ready to do so.
“All business should be fair, but business is still business.”
One of the main problems they are facing is that many people simply do not understand the importance of Fairtrade, or even do not know that is exists - particularly in the textile industry. This is part of the purpose of his trip to Europe, where it is very easy for businesses to source a cheaper factory because of the consumerist demand for cheap clothing and little thought to what goes into making it. He maintains the philosophy that all business should be fair, but business is still business. Here, the factory is well lit, they receive a decent salary, have clean toilets, regular working hours and are allowed to take toilet and drink breaks regularly - all things that are completely disregarded in some workshops and factories not far from this one.
These thoughts have been echoed to me by Pamela, who is very grateful for her new job following her years working in sweatshops that supply the western demand.