From Living on the Street to Earning a Living Wage: Fair Trade at Work in Hanoi

Life was a daily struggle for the first 18 years in the life of a young man named Phan. Born in a poor, rural province in Vietnam, he had no education and no marketable skills. Yet he hoped for a better future.

At 18, he journeyed to Hanoi to try selling newspapers — but the work was inconsistent, and competition on the street was fierce. Phan was homeless and hungry.

“Then one day in the marketplace,” Phan recalls, “I heard that a nearby shop was training young men in the art of stone carving, and paying a good salary.”

The shop, called Kids & Stone, had been hiring young men for about 15 years, bringing on more new employees as its partnership with a regional fair trade co-op called Craft Link helped grow the business.

Phan had never dared to dream of the stability this job promised. But he soon became the fourth artisan in the then-fledgling Kids & Stone workshop. And life began to change.

Now a master carver with a wife and family, Phan earns enough to allow his wife to stay home and care for their children. “I’ve even been able to buy a motorbike,” he beams.

In developing regions across Southeast Asia, India, Latin America and other parts of the world, many craftspeople — even artisans whose families hand down skills and established shops — are struggling to adapt to new market economies. Gaiam is working for positive change for these talented people who want to earn a living and deserve to earn a fair wage for their work.

Gaiam's product sourcing, international relations and social responsibility teams are working together to build partnerships with fair trade groups like Craft Link, whose team brought us to visit the Kids & Stone shop as well as the Craft Link ceramics group. Through our One World by GaiamTM Fair Trade Marketplace, we’re building opportunities for artisans to earn living wages in the local context.

Craft Link and other fair trade partners Gaiam works with provide training in artisan crafts — as well as in business skills like marketing and product design that help artisans and shop managers sustain their livelihoods. In the words of an organizer at one Gaiam fair trade partner, “Work brings dignity.” 

In today's world where a growing number of consumers want to know the story behind the products they buy, fair trade helps ensure that their dollars and choices are making a meaningful difference in the world. 

Questions about fair trade? Read our Fair Trade FAQ and Buying Guide.


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