Viva Fair Trade: Solidarity with Balinese Artisans

Mitra Bali, one of Serrv's partners in Bali

Mitra Bali, one of Serrv's partners in Bali

By Kaylee Backstrom, Assistant Manager & Volunteer Coordinator, Global Gifts Mass Ave in Indianapolis

Welcome to Bali where the air smells of incense and Hindu sculptures are never far from the eye. I had never felt more culture shock than after we landed in Bali, and we had only made it a few steps out of the airport. I am not sure what I was expecting, but I had never felt like I was in such a different place, in a good way, I loved it already. We left the airport, my uncle and I, with a hired driver and on our way to the workshop I could not help but noticed the word Mitra on a couple other shops. I asked our driver what it meant in Indonesian. He explained that it could mean partners or together, which I thought made complete sense for any group sharing in fair trade principles.

After an hour's drive and a few missed turns, and directions from a couple of locals, we found ourselves just outside of Ubud in front of Mitra Bali Fair Trade Workshop. There was no missing the proud signs stating Fair Trade status at this workshop/complex. We got out of the car and the gate opened for us, we were met with friendly smiles and handshakes from Hani, Mitra Bali's Marketing Director, and Adi, Product Development and Design manager. We were offered a cup of coffee and made our introductions. I felt the warming presence of these people right away, almost as if I were sitting down with old friends even though we had just met, the kindness exuberant. I could tell right away, even though I was 9,500 miles away from home, in a complete different culture, that my love for fair trade was shared!

After a short while we were offered a tour of the workshop. It was bigger than I expected and went back a little ways into a court yard where there were some women sanding down wooden bowls, treating them and prepping them for a shipment. The women were very friendly and greeted us with smiles. I was amazed at how even through language barriers, it is still possible to connect with people who believe and share the same inherent values. It was also really neat to see products that I work with and sell on a daily basis waiting around being prepped for shipments all over the world. To make the connection of a product to the person who made it, increased the value tremendously.

Artisans finishing wooden bowls

Artisans finishing wooden bowls

We would later learn during our visit that Mitra Bali works with over 50 different artisan producer groups and farmers within Indonesia, and this location was just one of several where artisans work. This facility in particular was responsible for holding the majority of the handicrafts that would be exported to different fair trade retailers abroad.

After our tour of the facility, Agung arrived with another tour group and introduced himself as Hani’s Husband and business partner. He then started a presentation and would explain the Mitra Bali logo and how it represents the artisans they work with and togetherness. Right away Agung’s love for the artisans, Balinese people and their culture was very noticeable. He then further explained to us the fair trade principles and how artisans that work with them really value what they do because they can pay the artisan more for their handicrafts and faster than other buyers. This is because one of the core values of fair trade is that artisans must receive half of the payment upfront to be able to afford to produce their handicrafts without going into debt with a middleman. Agung also explained to us how this principle helped a wood farmer get out of debt and then was able to use more sustainable practices in the process (Sustainability and environmental responsibility are also principle values in fair trade).

The Fair Trade Principles, written in the Bahasa language at the Mitra Bali workshop

The Fair Trade Principles, written in the Bahasa language at the Mitra Bali workshop

Agung explained to us that Indonesia is rich with natural resources but unfortunately most of the profits from these natural resources are going back to major corporations in other countries and not to the people of Indonesia. Tourism is also a major industry within Bali and creates many opportunities to sell handicrafts, but artisans who sell to shops in Bali also sell through a middleman and are not paid a fair living wage for the hard work and time they spend making the crafts. This is why fair trade is important for the people of Bali. This is the reason why Mitra Bali exports about 95% of the products made by their artisan partners. Agung emphasizes that buying and selling products from Mitra Bali is not a matter of charity but one of solidarity, standing with our fellow humans and saying that we will not stand for working conditions and pay that are degrading and unfair. We ended our presentation with Agung singing an original song called Viva Fair Trade (lyrics below). I could not think of a better expression to describe Mitra Bali- Fair Trade lives there!

I want to thank you to Agung, Hani, and Adi for sharing Mitra Bali with me. It was truly a wonderful experience to meet you all and learn of the work that they are doing with artisans in Bali. Your love for the human race shows and it is something I hope we can all reflect and exude.

Viva Fair Trade
Written by Agung Alit

In this wonderful world
We are glad to be with you
To share together
Our feeling of Humanity
In this wonderful world
Let’s build our partnership
Respecting difference
Through the spirit of togetherness

Open your heart
People North and South
Hand in Hand
Struggle for a fairer world

Viva Fair Trade
Viva Fair Trade
Viva Fair Trade
Viva Fair Trade

Fair trade will save our planet from greediness
Fair trade will save our planet from greediness