Awards 2000 The News International Not-For-Profit Award

The News International Not-For-Profit Award

Short-listed: International Resources for Fairer Trade

IRFT, based in Mumbai (Bombay), has a small team of eight but has managed to serve over 65 businesses. It is one of the national consultancies in several countries which work with Traidcraft Exchange to help small producers find a market in national and Western shops and stores. Last year alone it helped producers in 15 community-based organisations make 160,000 of sales in India and overseas. However, its work extends beyond these organisations. It also helps Western and Indian firms ensure that Indians making goods for them enjoy reasonable conditions.

It established a link with the British do-it-yourself chain B&Q through a chance meeting at a New Delhi conference. B&Q buys brass door-fittings, coir doormats and other goods from India which can make just about anything made anywhere in the world. But the manner in which it is made is often very different from British practice. A brass fitting made in Britain would almost certainly be cast and machined in a factory subject to factory regulations. In India, it would probably be cast in a house in a village near the metalworking centres of Aligarh and Moradabad. The family working on the molten brass might well have no goggles, fireproof gloves or shoes to protect them.

Factories turn, grind, machine, polish and coat the brass castings but often give this work, too, to homeworkers. At the buffing and polishing stage, workers without masks inhale dangerous fibres from the buffing wheel. At the end of the supply chain, the exporter has nice premises. But he may do little more there than pack and dispatch. B&Q became concerned about this and found IRFT a useful ally because its team could speak to metalworkers in their own languages while B&Q could speak only in English, to managers. Vinita Singh of IRFT says: "The chain of subcontracting has inherent problems of traceability, lack of ownership, lack of social security. Tracing the supply chain, identifying the problems and doing something real to that is the biggest challenge."

A B&Q officer comments: "IRFT offers pragmatic, intelligent advice to achieve improvements in working conditions delivered in a commercially viable way. IRFT's work is underpinned by the belief that factory managers must be inspired to make improvements because they can see it will make their business better."

IRFT and B&Q have similarly studied the production of coir doormats. To release coir fibre, coconut husk is rotted (retted) by soaking for over eight months (which pollutes the water). Then it is beaten and the coir is spun and woven. The women who beat and spin work at home in their own time and are often poorly paid, because the coir at that stage is low in value. IRFT has set up a savings and loan scheme which has helped them buy new spinning wheels and improve their earnings. IRFT is also involved in a scheme to build an artificial retting tank to prevent water pollution.

IRFT was initiated in 1995 by Kirit Dave, a designer who realised that non-government organisations needed management help at an affordable cost. It is financed with its own earnings plus grants from the Tata Trust and Britain's Department for International Dervelopment.

One organisation IRFT has helped is Sahaj Sadguru Handicrafts. It has found new markets in the cities and abroad for the beadwork and bamboo weaving of. 250 women in an area of Gujarat where the monsoon is unreliable and farming poor. These crafts now earns the women about 10 each a month. Another association, Dharamitra, writes: "Having pioneered an efficient, ecofriendly technology for collecting and processing honey with tribal people, we lacked marketing. IRFT has provided that missing link."

IRFT has set up a quality assurance system which has reduced the amount of exported goods rejected in Japan. In a new venture it is encouraging and providing certificates for organic cotton crops, thereby preventing farmers getting into debt with moneylenders through the purchase of chemicals.

International Resources for Fairer Trade
184/187 S.V.Road, Jogeshwari (W), Mumbai 400 1022, India
Tel: +91 22 6781841 Fax: +91 22 6788965