Walking down the aisles of a department store, we barely spare a thought to where the cheap goods flooding the shelves come from. The term “sweatshops” is vaguely familiar, yet we don’t directly associate it with the neon t-shirt with the rocking logo that catches the eye. Desensitized to the plight of workers in developing countries slaving under near unbearable conditions, we blithely take the profusion of low-priced products for granted.
World of Good is a small organization with a big mission – to create awareness and change our attitudes towards fellow human beings who are being exploited many miles away. It attempts to shake us out of our apathetic world view not by being preachy, but by providing high-quality products that are produced ethically and fairly, with the artisan getting just compensation for his or her efforts and being able to work in humane work environments.
WOG is the creation of Priya Haji, a social entrepreneur who started creating social enterprises while still in high school. I spoke to Jagadha Sivan, who is the Director for product Design and Sourcing. “The idea is to promote “fair trade” goods without sacrificing the business element,” says Jagadha. WOG is therefore a hybrid organization with both a profit and non-profit angle to it.
The non-profit side WOG: Development Organization focuses on fair wages, assistance to the artisan community and grant giving. The mission is to improve economic and social conditions for millions of artisans and their families living on less than $4 per day. Among the many initiatives of this non-profit arm is the development of transparent fair trade practices and promotion of the same by craft companies.
The for-profit arm, called World of Good Inc, has a wholesale outlet for artisans and craftsmen from around the world. The company supplies to stores like Whole Foods and Borders as well as independent natural food stores and book stores. A collaboration with Ebay offers an online destination for their products as well.
“Our aim is to become a marketing channel for artisans and find a market for their goods in the US,” adds Jagadha who joined WOG after a long stint in the tech sector. A serendipitous trip to a remote village in Rajasthan to help a friend studying the marketing of small scale crafts made her feel she was missing out on something in her cubicled life. When she found World of Good, it seemed to mesh perfectly with her dream to put her business skills to use for social empowerment.
“World of Good is run just like any other retail business,” says Jagadha. It has received investor funding and relies on successful marketing and distribution to keep it afloat. “The anti-mass production has been slowly growing,” she adds. In these economic times, finding customers to pay the 10-20% premium on women’s accessories is harder but Jagadha insists that the primary motivation of the company is to raise awareness. “We put a product out where the customer does not have to compromise on quality, aesthetics and trends. At the same time the purchase has a social good component to it.”
For now WOG focuses on women’s clothing and accessories like bags, jewelry and dresses. The products are available in limited quantities and change frequently. The World of Good store on Ebay is a must see for customers keen on unique products that directly benefit the producers, often impoverished villagers in countries like India, Bangladesh and Peru.
Jagadha Sivan will feature in a panel discussion in Narika’s South Asian Women’s Conference Rejuvenate:Mind, Body, Spirit.
Thanks for reminding me of “fair trade” products! I once bought lovely wooden toys at a “fair trade” exhibition. My grandchildren love them! But the guys at the exhibition told me it was very difficult to sell their products since most of our buying decisions are based on what we see in ads. And big companies have big ad budgets, far exceeding the cost of the product. Fair traders can’t match them. Finally, it is the consumer who ends up paying for those aggressive marketing strategies. Bottled water is a case in point.