More on Astrojax's Fair Trade Practices
Balancing Profits and Greater Responsibility
The conflict of greater-responsibility business (GRB) practices versus conventional business practices is fundamentally a conflict of love versus fear. For instance, in conventional capitalism financial information is kept secret for fear of competitors stealing the information or fear of how people may judge the morality of the business practices. In contrast, it takes the courage of love for a greater good to be transparent about financial matters with business partners and the general public. In conventional capitalism, business is thought of as an endeavor involving limited resources and therefore a zero-sum game, so workers are paid as little as possible. But thinking of business as a zero-sum game ignores the facts that love, innovation, creativity, and people’s potential are unlimited resources, and we are all connected so one person’s gain is the gain of everyone.
There is no particular formula for deciding how to find the balance between profits and GRB, because GRB practices are something that cannot be formulaic and must involve the heart. Of course, there are things to legitimately be feared. The challenge is to find the balance.
The most fundamental aspect of what constitutes fair trade is certainly wages. When people refer to fair trade, they are typically referring to hiring workers in “third world” countries where wages are very low. We do our production in Guatemala, which would certainly qualify as a third world country -- wages are typically five to ten dollars a day, although in rural areas it is often much less. Although people can live on this wage here, they commonly lack proper nutrition and clean water, and medicines that are taken for granted in “first world” countries are typically out of reach (so people, including of course infants and young children, commonly die from what would easily be cured in first world countries). We have the choice as to whether and to what extent we participate in this systemic injustice.
We have decided to pay roughly three times the market rate per stitch for the crochet in our Astrojax balls. That is calculated based on what is paid for crocheted hacky sack balls and/or what was paid for the crochet by outside contractors when we used outside contractors.
Direct Employment of Artisans
We no longer use outside contractors to employ our artisans. Removing an intermediary streamlines the process, thereby allowing us to pay substantially higher wages. Direct relationships with the artisans also allows us to achieve better quality control.
Transparency and Like-Minded Partners
We operate with transparency with our employees and business partners. We feel blessed to have found like-minded business partners who love the product and appreciate GRB practices, and are willing to operate with smaller margins than are standard in the industry so that our skilled artisans can be more fairly compensated.
Determining Market and Fair Trade Wages
Disappointingly, we have found it is not uncommon for contractors who claim to pay fair trade wages to not be honest about the wages paid. It was only after we began hiring crocheters directly, some of them happening to have been employed previously by our outside contractors, did we learn what wages our contractors had actually paid.
We have concluded that a fair trade wage is close to what we had been told by our contractors was the wage they were paying, and the market wage is what they were actually paying, and the difference was roughly a factor of three. In the regions of Guatemala where we manufacture, the market wage is 1 Quetzal (which is about 14 cents) for the crochet of a hacky sack ball that has about 1000 stitches. We pay 3 quetzals for the crochet of Astrojax Maya Sky balls which have 600 stitches, so we are paying more than the three times the market wage per stitch. A rapid crocheter can crochet 4 balls an hour, so that is a wage of about $1.5/hr.
GRB Practices can be Economical
GR business practices need not costly. For instance, providing retailers with a display card rather than a display box minimizes packaging waste and reduces costs. And having the bodies of the balls made of crochet rather than plastic results in the employment of a large number of skilled artisans and avoids the need for a costly plastic-injection mold.
Many first-world conventions, such as having packaging which is to be immediately disposed of, have developed or are maintained because affluence provides the luxury of being wasteful. Those conventions are luxuries the environment can no longer afford.
Leaps of Faith
At many stages in the development of the Astrojax Weave, we weren’t sure how to accomplish what was needed or even whether they could be accomplished. We didn’t know if we could obtain the necessary tolerances in crochet, how the product launch would be financed, if the retail cost of a GRB version of Astrojax would be viable, etc.
Creating any new business is a leap of faith. Creating a business where profitability is compromised for the sake of GR while facing substantial financial challenges requires huge leaps of faith that operating with love provides benefits and opens up unforeseen possibilities.
An Evolving Process
We are open with our employees, business partners, and the general public that we are just figuring out how to operate as a GRB, and corrections and changes of course may have to be made as we navigate the balance between profitability and greater responsibility. At this point we have been shipping orders for under a year, so we are still learning and evolving. But time is of the essence and an important part of the mission of GRBs goes beyond just implementing fair trade practices -- it is important for GRBs, even fledgling ones, to share the challenges they face and how they operate so that such practices may be more widely adopted.
Fair Trade Astrojax Weaves
A beautiful product made in a beautiful way for a better world