The term “fair trade handicrafts” summons images of wicker baskets and hand-dyed sarongs. But the business side of the fair trade marketplace is getting a little less old-world, thanks to World of Good, an organization that connects artisans in developing countries with mainstream retailers (including eBay and Whole Foods).
The organization—comprised of a wholesale business, an online marketplace, and a nonprofit arm—was honored last night with the Katherine M. Swanson Equality Award at the Tech Awards. The Tech Awards are produced by The Tech Museum in San Jose, CA, and recognizes 15 laureates in the categories of education, equality, environment, biosciences, economic development, and health.
World of Good won the award, which comes with a $50,000 cash prize, based on its Fair Wage Guide, an online tool that it created in 2005 and that more than 600 artisans and NGOs—as well as some major buyers, including Hallmark—are using now. The organization is now developing an SMS version of the Fair Wage Guide.
The Guide is designed to empower artisans to demand proper rates for their work by being able to quickly look up prices they should be earning for their goods, based on the rates earned worldwide and locally. And the SMS application, in particular, shows great promise based on the growing use of cell phones and phone-based services in the developing world.
“We’re showing that a very old problem can be solved in new ways,” says World of Good CEO Priya Haji. “We’re using technology to make it a more transparent process. Lack of information is why marginalized people are in the situation that they are in. The application calculates how much each person in the chain has made and how their pay compares to minimum wage in that country. We aim to help artisans earn 20 percent above minimum wage.”
Haji says the kernel for World of Good started growing after she finished business school and was traveling abroad, shopping in artisan marketplaces in the developing world. Fair trade has been largely focused on coffee and food, she says, so World of Good focuses on furniture, clothing and other non-food products.
The company’s greatest sales channel is eBay, which provides a means for eBay shoppers to get quick online access to fair trade goods. But World of Good is still busy forming partnerships with new retailers and is actively seeking new retail sources for its Fair Trade goods.