Our Global Exchange direct buying trip to Southeast Asia included a weeklong stopover in Luang Prabang, a World Heritage Site situated at the junction of the Mekong and its tributary, the Khan river, and surrounded by lush mountains. In the centre of the city is Mount Phousi, with stunning views of the surrounding temples and hills. Jenie (our Senior Buyer) and I met up with Global Exchange Board of Directors member Nhu Miller, who seemed to know all the right people in all the right places! We visited with Kopnoi, a local Fair Trade business doing a world of good. We wandered and browsed through local craft markets, discussing the sad fact that many crafter sellers were asking far less for their products than they were worth, especially when the amount of time it takes to produce each item was taken into account. With limited access to foreign markets, craftspeople are dependent upon the meager amount of visitors who spend their tourist dollars on local wares. What I find frustrating is that wherever I am in the world, I find tourists who seem to inhibit a sense of obligation to haggle with local sellers, regardless of whether the asking price seems fair or how long the item took to make. At the market in Luang Prabang, a local sewer was asking $20 for a hand-stitched double sized quilt. When she sensed my lack of enthusiasm, the $20 quilt suddenly came with two matching pillowcases. And when that failed to engage me, the price sank. So did my heart.
Written by: Tex Dworkin, Manager of the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store