One of the beautiful parts about working for a fair trade company are the cultural lessons we learn. The ones we learn everyday even when we’re across the ocean from one another.
We go into this work with the intention of respecting culture, and it’s even written into our code as members of the Fair Trade Federation. Principle 9: Respect cultural identity.
Our intentions are to share stories of the artisans, of their experiences and, hopefully, of the benefit of this work.
And then one day, we miss the mark.
It happens and it’s subtle and it can happen when trying to protect based on our own cultural norms.
We recently released our social impact report for Zambia. The intention of this report is to provide an overview of the life that this group lives and our partnership with them. In the beginning of the report we share a culmination of stats. At the end of the report, we share some quotes with references to first names.
What we didn’t mention in the report is that Jabbes is the youngest member of the group, he is supporting 11 family members and the family eats 4 days a week and the remaining days they eat porridge. Naomi is supporting her husband and daughter. Of her greatest challenges, she hopes to send her daughter to school someday, her husband doesn't work and she worries terribly about her 3 younger brothers she hasn’t seen since her parents passed away – 6 years ago.
We didn’t share these specifics in the report, and this is where we missed the mark. I take the responsibility for this. In my culture, we are shy about sharing our hardships. So, I wanted to protect Jabbes and Naomi - or so I thought. I didn’t want to hang their dirty laundry out for everyone to see.
But I stood corrected.
The group’s founder Kate sent me a kind e-mail. She shared:
“Don’t ever be shy about sharing the Zambian's personal info on their account as they are very open about sharing their troubles as a culture. In fact I have been told off for not sharing if [my husband] is sick and stuff like that; for them it's a way of life to talk about their hardships.”
I had subtly missed the mark.
We have left the social impact report as is – partially for brevity’s sake. However, the intention of this blog is to share some more personal stories and to share that sometimes when we are trying very hard to respect culture, we can still miss it – especially when we are holding on strong to our own cultural beliefs.