Mata Traders partners with several fair trade organizations in India and Nepal that train and employ hundreds of artisans in marginalized communities, with a focus on gender equity and empowering women.
At the cooperatives, garments are individually stitched in small workshops, with one seamstress creating an entire garment rather than being part of a production line. Many Mata styles are then carefully finished with hand embroidery in the women’s own homes. Their training starts with hand sewing, moving on to simple machine patterns, like bags, and eventually mastering the sewing machine. Showing leadership skills offers the women a chance to become head of their sewing group or get promoted to positions like trainer, quality checker, materials buyer, or assistant production manager. In a country as socially stratified as India, this type of social mobility in the workplace is a rarity.
Mata’s artisan cooperatives are similar to social service agencies in the support they provide to end the cycle of poverty for the members and their families. Health care, paid maternity leave, retirement pensions, and daycare: all part of the membership package. Social workers on staff assist the artisans in addressing their personal needs, from opening a bank account to situations of domestic violence and dealing with HIV/AIDS. There are literacy classes, computer training, and regular workshops on topics like hygiene, nutrition, and parenting. They’ve seen this education really make a difference: co-op member Sidhama told us that before coming to the co-op, she never rode buses because she could not read the bus numbers. Now she travels around Mumbai by bus without problem. The co-ops empower the women to navigate their own lives, quite literally!
Fair trade is best known for producers getting a fair price for their goods. The women at our co-ops earn a fair wage that exceeds the local minimum wage. They are paid per piece so the amount each artisan makes varies. The benefit of this system is the flexibility it allows in terms of hours (some women work part time or from home) and skill level (slower sewers aren’t fired for low productivity, as they would in a factory). The women exercise control in determining the piece rate, and as the cooperatives are worker-owned organizations, they receive a share of the profits.
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