ONE of the major draws for many people to Bali is the abundance of high quality goods produced by skilled artisans. For centuries the Balinese have been renowned for their superb craftsmanship when it comes to producing jewellery, wood carvings, paintings, textiles and handicrafts to name a few, and their traditional methods and adroitness continue on today. Local products can be found in tourist shops around the island, and handicrafts exports add a huge boost to the economy.
However, the sad fact is that many of these hard working artisans receive only a small percentage of the benefits that their products bring. Craft producers rarely know to whom, or to which countries their products are being sold or traded and at what price. Employers and middlemen may not offer a fair deposit before the artisans start work or a fair price after the work is done, and in some circumstances they may not pay at all. In the end it is mainly the middlemen and the shop owners who reap the benefits of the products.
It is this inequality and exploitation that prompted Agung Alit to found Mitra Bali in 1993. His aim is to engage craftsmen in the tourism industry so that they are empowered in their work and lives. In this way, he hopes to eradicate exploitation, decrease poverty and find a better balance between the rich and the poor. To do this, Mitra Bali has become actively involved in assisting marginalised craft producers to understand fair trade and develop a fair trade model.
Mitra Bali works on the core fair trade principles of clear dialogue and transparency, equality and mutual respect in trading partnerships. They calculate fair payments with producers based on a percentage of the sale price of the products, and the producers receive 50 per cent of the total payment up front. They also offer artisans free training workshops on design and product development, interest free loans, emergency and old age benefits, and funds to build clean water supplies and toilets in villages and support village cooperatives and farmers.
Craftsmen also work closely with Mitra Bali’s product design, development, and marketing teams to keep on top of the latest sales trends in the global market and interesting innovations. The artisans can then draw on their traditional skills and source appropriate local materials to create high quality products that sell. You can find a range of locally produced products in the Mitra Shop on Jalan Monkey Forest in Ubud including homewares, home decor, gifts and jewellery.