company: WEAVE, Women's Education for Advancement & Empowerment
country: Thailand
product: handcrafts
distribution: worldwide, via Internet

who: WEAVE is a Thai national NGO. It has a vision of empowering indigenous women - that is, displaced women and children from Burma - and supporting their needs and basic human rights. These rights include the right to education, the right to a livelihood and the right to health care. Through the use of appropriate technology, training, education and the promotion of independent action, WEAVE encourages women to play a leading role in improving the health and well being of themselves and their families. In 1998, WEAVE decided to join the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), one of the many organisations that are working worldwide to promote fair trade practices and create networks between fair trade groups.

what: WEAVE chose FTF because their high standards in their fair trade criteria are compatible with what WEAVE wanted to achieve through the Income Generation Project (IGP). The primary goal of this project is to provide safe employment opportunities for women, enabling them to use traditional craft-making skills to provide resources for themselves and their families.

Skilled WEAVE women unravel silkworm cocoons, spin them into a fine thread and then weave them into a beautiful unique cloth. All products are hand woven on a simple narrow backstrap loom. Their weaving and embroidery stitchwork create a sense of stability and self-assurance when their situation as refugees from Burma makes life around them seems consistently very uncertain.

WEAVE believes that the improvement of women's status benefits the whole community. More than 200 participating women use their traditional Karen skills to create products for export and for the local community. The women are able to keep their income and expertise in their communities through savings schemes as well as investments in training, including language classes, sewing and weaving.

why: for them, making handicrafts is more than just a way to gain an income. It is part of the very essence of their Karen culture. Since 1986, thousands of Burmese families have fled to Thailand as refugees to escape the persecution and human rights abuses of the military dictatorship and its soldiers. Currently, over 120,000 people face an uncertain future as displaced people crowded into refugee camps on the Thai- Burmese border. These refugees are dependent on the tolerance of the host country, which varies with the economic and political climate and has become more and more strained over time. In addition, aid from international NGOs is not sufficient to cover all of their most basic needs. Refugee women's labour is particularly vulnerable to exploitation.

Women are compensated at a lower rate than their male counterparts for agricultural work and must bear the responsibility for the labour within the household as well. Opportunities to earn money in and around the camps are extremely limited. A very lucky few hold secure jobs in the camps as medics for medical organisations and teachers in the schools. Thai policy discourages income generation within the camps and also forbids people to go outside the camps to earn wages. When they do leave the camps to work, refugees are frequently victims of exploitation by factory owners and arbitrary arrest. WEAVE gives these women an opportunity for redemption.