New Internationalist

Fairer than fair

December 2010

What does a grassroots response to the unjust global economy look like? Think beyond fair trade, beyond profit, beyond private capital, and it might look like Just Change India, a tea trade initiative set to right economic wrongs.

Fatuma, one of JC’s community co-ordinators, at the Nettikulam shop.

Fairer than fair trade – that’s what Just Change India (JC) is about. Rather than focusing solely on better prices for producers, it takes control of the market itself. By creating the infrastructure for producers and consumers to trade directly with each other, it ensures that poor people can afford quality products, while producers are fairly paid. For JC, it’s not only about the money – it’s about power.

Profit, the ultimate goal in the capitalist system, is replaced by benefit, which positively affects every link in the business chain. This idea is based on the principle that all human beings have an equal right to the Earth’s resources, both natural and created, and that participants should therefore benefit equally from economic activity.

JC, born in India among the adivasi people of the Nilgiri mountains, has over the years successfully expanded its operations to other parts of the country, and now focuses on products such as rice, lentils and spices as well as tea. It also has strong branches in Germany and Britain.

Co-founder Stan Thekaekara believes that ensuring the project’s growth without damaging the environment is a big challenge. ‘Consciousness of the environment leads us to make choices that can affect “profitability”, but nevertheless are of greater benefit to us as human beings,’ he explains.

With this in mind, JC tries to source as locally as possible, takes food miles into serious consideration and always prefers organic to non-organic products. It also supports the use of ‘primary’ products. For example, partners in India are encouraged to produce their own handmade soap, instead of buying it from corporations. ‘The adivasi of Gudalur produce soap and sell it among themselves. But rather than transporting it to Orissa 1,000 miles away, we have trained people there to make their own soap too,’ says Stan.

Given its success, is JC planning to take over the world? ‘The last thing we want to be is another Microsoft! It is the concept we hope will be picked up and spread,’ Stan responds. He adds that JC sees itself not as an organization, but rather as a social movement which redefines economic relationships by ‘taking away the omnipotent power of capital and giving it back to ordinary people’.

The fight for global justice was never going to be easy. So where does inspiration and strength come from? For Stan, it’s the small stories about the difference his work makes to people’s lives that count – like the one of the women of Vellilamad village, who were ridiculed for having decided to set up a JC shop. A local betting syndicate bet a gold ring that the shop would close within six months, but it didn’t happen. Convinced that the women would give up, the syndicate bet another gold ring. Three years on, the shop is going strong, and, having lost both rings, the syndicate itself has given up.

Giedre Steikunaite - selected products available from the New Internationalist shop

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 438 This column was published in the December 2010 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 438

New Internationalist Magazine issue 438
Issue 438

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New Internationalist Magazine Issue 436

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