Fair Trade in Nepal: Mahaguthi Models Empowerment

Nepal craft

Some of the women completing hand sewing projects choose to sit in a shady area outside the main production room. Photo by Jen Hardy/CRS

Having just wrapped up a trekking trip with friends in Nepal, and on my last day in the capital of Kathmandu, I decided to swing by the offices of a fair trade production group called Mahaguthi. Through CRS’ partnership with SERRV in the U.S., a variety of Mahaguthi products are available to our supporters.  I figured it was the perfect chance to see a fair trade group in action.

Nepal worker

Mahaguthi employee Durga cuts felt that will create the noses for stuffed animals. Photo by Jen Hardy/CRS

Executive Director Sunil Chitrakar graciously explained a bit about the organization before arranging for me to visit one of the production centers.  Mahaguthi employs 60 women in Nepal’s capital of Kathmandu. Twenty of the women are home-based producers, and 40 women work at two production centers.

I heard the rhythmic whir of machinery and snipping scissors before I entered each sunlit room. In the pre-production area, I met Sharmila, Durga and Laxmi. They expertly prepared the raw pieces that would serve as building blocks for bags, toys, clothing and household items. Other women pieced together the items with sewing machines and hand stitching and packaged finished products for shipment to fair trade retailers around the world. The entire operation was efficient and professional, but I was most impressed with the resources made available to each woman employed by Mahaguthi.

Benefits for the women include day care at the production centers, private breastfeeding areas, a starting salary above minimum wage, bonuses, profit sharing, and monthly travel, medical, and clothing allowances. The organization makes a special effort to create opportunities for women with disabilities, and provides additional training and accommodation to help them succeed in their jobs.

Salaries are paid directly to a bank account in the woman’s name, which gives her more control of her family’s finances. Producers also attend regular meetings where each woman has the opportunity to give input on the organization and present new product ideas.

“This is a democratic organization” Mr. Chitrakar observed, “so each person’s voice must be included.”

I left the production facility with a renewed commitment to buy fair trade products whenever possible, and I got a good start at the local showroom. Spoiler alert to my family – you may see quite a few Mahaguthi labels under the Christmas tree this year.

Jen Hardy, New Media Communications Officer

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