Last week, the Fairtrade Foundation invited me along to a fascinating event to celebrate the launch of #FairtradeFortnight. The “Endangered Aisle” pop-up in Shoreditch highlighting products that are at risk of disappearing because of climate change.
I spotted a couple of Fairtrade certified brands at the event: Jenipher’s Coffee, Earth Conscious, little green radicals, Zaytoun CIC, and a familiar sight to many of us consumers – Turtle Bags and their string alternative to the plastic carrier bag.
Following up with Turtle Bags founder and CEO Beth Williams post event, we chatted about their work with the Marine Conservation Society (Turtle Bags donate 10% of their profits to the charity), and that Turtle Bags are also working in partnership with the Women’s Empowerment Programme in Bangladesh for over 15 years, and how they have been effected by devastating flooding in the area.
I asked Beth to tell me more about the programme and calling on a local UK Soroptomists group to support them
The Women’s Empowerment Programme in Bangladesh are the Turtle Bags producers and they make both bags and baskets for Turtle bags. They are members of WFTO and they make the bags on hand looms.
Women in the Bangladesh programme are supported with the tools to make their own living in their own homes. They work with plant-based fibres such as jute and seagrass making bags and baskets for Turtle Bags and other Fairtrade organisations across the word.
Exceptional Floods in Bangladesh 2020
For women in rural Bangladesh, flooding absolutely magnified the COVID crisis.
The communities in southern Bangladesh are on a delta and so each year they expect inundation. However, the 2020 floods in Bangladesh had some remarkable characteristics.
The flooding started in late June 2020, earlier than usual, with a never-before seen “triple peak”, resulting in the second-highest level of flooding since 1989. Five and a half million people were affected, and one million houses were waterlogged. About 1.1 million people were displaced.
The shout -out came from Turtle Bags’ partner Women’s Empowerment Programme, late in 2020. They do an amazing job of supporting some of the most marginalised women in our society; championing them to work using traditional skills and natural materials to make bags and baskets for Turtle Bags and other Fairtrade organisations. There is a breadth to the programme which brings support through savings schemes and skills training.
Kohinoor who has headed up the programme, called Beth to ask if there was any support Turtle Bags could give to the group.
Recognising the crisis, Beth’s local Soroptomists offered to raise funds for a pilot project developing new models of housing to cope with the changing climate. The houses would be offered to the most vulnerable women in the community. The Soroptomists are an inspiring international Women’s movement advocating human rights and gender equality.
In the Spring of 2023, two houses were completed as a pilot project and offered to the most vulnerable women in the community.
There was sufficient funds for a boat which allows independent travel by the women throughout the year.
Beth is enormously thankful to the Kidderminster and District Soroptomists, for their timely intervention. We know the affects of the Climate Crisis are not going away anytime soon, however, it’s the act of support which is most welcome and in the words of Kohinoor: “Thank you for standing beside the artisans.”
Fairtrade Fortnight this year runs from 27 February to the 12 March 2023.
More people choosing Fairtrade means extra income, power and support to farming communities around the world. And with further support from groups such as the Soroptomists, these communities can continue to flourish.