Monday, November 09, 2009

World of Good still doing it through the recession

The global recession hasn't avoided fair trade businesses. World of Good has had to cut back on staff here in US, but they have avoided any cutbacks in purchasing from their artisans across the globe.

From the San Francisco Chronicle, reporter Carolyn Said has this profile on the fair trade company.

For Indian beadworkers who craft intricate necklaces and earrings, Haitian metalworkers who recycle oil drums into sculptures, and Guatemalan weavers who make rainbow-hued tapestries, the economic downturn that has choked off consumer spending could mean a devastating plunge back into poverty.

Priya Haji is determined to stop that from happening.

As CEO and co-founder of World of Good, a small Emeryville company that creates market opportunities for craftspeople from the developing world, Haji has acted nimbly to respond to the recession without slashing the orders her far-flung workers depend on.

"Other retailers can quickly turn off their factories to reduce excess inventories, but fair traders can't do that," said Haji, 39, whose calm demeanor belies her fervent sense of purpose. "We have a commitment to pay a fair price and fair wages to producer groups."

Thousands of artisans in 70 countries from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe fabricate the handmade jewelry, clothing, housewares and art that World of Good sells online and in stores.

Don Shaffer, CEO of San Francisco's RSF Social Finance, which provides financing to World of Good, said he appreciated that Haji refused to cut corners at the expense of her artisans. RSF expanded its loans to the company so it could continue to prefinance its inventory.

"They have stuck to their commitments through good times and bad, which a lot of other folks wouldn't do," he said. "World of Good is a shining example of a fair-trade organization functioning at a very high level as a business and having a tremendous social impact."

Some coping mechanisms have been painful. Haji said she had to trim staff, bringing the Emeryville workforce to its current size of about 25 people.

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