It was a privilege to hear Viswaraj speak about his life in the clothing industry in Mauritius and Madagascar. It brought home the importance of asking ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ and caring about the answer.
Vishwaraj used to work as a production manager for a large clothing manufacturer. He worked long hours and made sure his staff worked long hours too. He admits he was well paid as manager, but his staff, weren’t. They worked, on average, 72 hours a week to meet deadlines and sales targets. “They [the company] were interested in profit first of all, and second, and third. They took all the juice out of their workers. In every circumstance it was about profit.”
He shared stories of how workers were sacked for “no real reason”; for talking too loudly, for being late, for simply expressing themselves. “There were always a lot of people looking for work, so we could do what we wanted.”
But two things happened which changed his life. He experienced the rough edge of management when he needed to take time off to spend time with his family when his daughter was ill – he wasn’t allowed. When he wanted to go home for Christmas – he wasn’t allowed. “I asked myself – what is more important – family? Welfare? Social life? or profit? I realised I needed to leave, where I worked, what I was doing, was like slavery.”
And then Viswaraj met Craft Aid – a Fair Trade company in Mauritius, making textiles and putting people first. “I never knew that could be possible, it was a world of difference. You could take breaks during the day, lunch was paid time, you could have leave, join unions, there was a workers council. WOW! My life changed.”
Unfortunately Craft Aid closed in 2014 as they couldn’t sell enough Fairtrade cotton. But with help and guidance from KoolSkools, Viswaraj took over the factory and restarted the company. “And now we have to sell to survive!”
“I’m pleased and proud to be in the family of Fairtrade. But people have to support it. People have to buy Fairtrade. It makes a huge difference to the lives of producers. It brings change, it brings smiles to people you don’t know. The only way is to support Fairtrade.”
And he’s right.
Koolskools are a brilliant way to engage with Fairtrade. (www.koolskools.co.uk) Their Fairtrade cotton uniform is perfect for schools – as everyday uniform or special occasion Year 6 or school trip hoodies. And it’s not just for schools – Holme Valley Fairtrade members’ fairandfunky and The Black Cat Bistro both proudly wear Fairtrade uniform from Koolskools.
Do take time to look for the Fairtrade mark when you go shopping. Ask questions about the supply chain and challenge companies to make the switch. Together we can make real change.