MarketPlace: Handwork of India
MarketPlace: Handwork of India

World Fair Trade Day: Not a Hallmark Holiday

If you haven’t heard of World Fair Trade Day, you aren’t alone. Held on the second Saturday of May, this is a day dedicated to raising awareness about fair trade. Fair trade is the alternative to the inequities of conventional trade between developed and developing countries, ensuring the producers receive a living wage and work in safe conditions.

Chicago, IL, April 21, 2006 --( If you haven’t heard of World Fair Trade Day, you aren’t alone.  Held on the second Saturday of May, this year marks the ninth time it has been celebrated.  A far cry from gift and card-giving holidays, World Fair Trade Day, held this year on May 13th, is all about raising awareness for fair trade.  This year’s theme, “Fair Trade Organizations NOW!” places the emphasis on the organizations that produce and sell fair trade products.  Fair Trade is the alternative to the inequities of conventional trade between developed and developing countries, ensuring the producers receive a living wage and work in safe conditions.  One such organization is the Evanston-based MarketPlace: Handwork of India.

“If women cannot put food on the table, you cannot talk about dignity, you cannot talk about them making changes in their lives and the lives of their families,” says Pushpika Freitas, the founder and president of MarketPlace, a non-profit, fair trade organization dedicated to increasing economic opportunities for women artisans in India and empowering them to bring about changes in their lives, the lives of their families and their communities.  For Freitas and the 480 artisans of MarketPlace: Handwork of India, the mission and spirit of World Fair Trade Day is a part of daily life. 

Born in the poor neighborhoods of Mumbai (Bombay) in 1986, MarketPlace provides employment for low-income, uneducated women.   It started with a small group of women using the sewing skills they already possessed to create unique, high quality apparel and home décor items.  Unlike normal sewing and handcraft positions in India, MarketPlace artisans were paid a living wage and received benefits.  With little education or training, these women faced many obstacles.  Some had physical limitations; others were subject to spousal abuse or had been rejected by their families.  All had to deal with a society and culture that discriminated against women in many ways. 

MarketPlace helped them organize their own artisan cooperatives by providing training, technical assistance and support. At present, MarketPlace works with 14 artisan-controlled cooperatives on every aspect of production, including dyeing the fabrics, sewing the products, and choosing a theme for the catalog. These groups emphasize democratic decision-making, promotion from within and every artisan having a say and stake in the direction of the company.

The growth and success of MarketPlace artisans has expanded well beyond being paid a fair wage and working in safe conditions.  Life expectancy for Marketplace artisans has increased to 62 years from the national average of 54 years for women. The average female child of a Marketplace artisan will finish the 10th grade, while most Indian girls only complete 4th. Marketplace artisans work an average of 9 months of the year; most artisans had no income before becoming part of a cooperative.

Organizing the workers to achieve financial security is only part of MarketPlace’s mission.  Through SHARE, a non-profit organization working with MarketPlace, the artisans collaborate on plans for improvements in the world around them.  As with all aspects of MarketPlace, it is the artisans themselves who determine their goals and objectives.  SHARE allows the artisans to work towards improving their own lives and the lives of their families as well as the community at large. As community activists, artisans put their newfound organizational and communication skills to use.  Groups have taken on daunting tasks such as providing basic health education within their communities, attending workshops on women’s legal rights and forming social action committees to tackle issues such as alcohol abuse and garbage collection.

The message ‘Dignity, Not Charity’ is sewn in each item of apparel and home décor that MarketPlace produces.  MarketPlace offers no handouts. All of the artisans are trained to become self sufficient, resulting in newfound confidence and self-respect.  This World Fair Trade Day, the artisans of MarketPlace invite customers to view their finely crafted apparel and home décor items at

To learn more about fair trade day activities, go to the official World Fair Trade Day website at

MarketPlace: Handwork of India
Casey Runyan or Kahindo Mateene