How fair is a fair trade?
Please note that this article was written for my MA News Writing course in November 2017. The article focused on investigative techniques, finding a relevant story and writing it in a structured, newsworthy way.
With the annual Berlin Bazaar fair well underway in the Messe District of Berlin, it has left The Cross Border Association without items to sell at their stalls. Containers with selected African accessories, as well as arts & crafts, has not been released by German customs on the second day of the fair.
The trade show has actively marketed itself as a socially aware fair-trade event that gives back to the community. This isn’t the case for most exhibitors who were trying to sell their goods from Zimbabwe at the Cross Border Association stall.
Questions are asked as to how inclusive the trade show is for people who are not EU residents. Contents of the container consist of a variety of African beads, African attire, beaded necklaces as well as artwork and sculptures that were designed by Rasha Muchamaya and the Zimbabwean team exhibiting here. The team have neither been informed as to when they will be receiving the remainder of the contents to sell.
“We are not sure how many containers are missing, so we are sorry that we don’t have everything here for you,” apologises Muchamaya, a seller and African designer from Bulawayo. The traders are still waiting to hear from the Bazaar’s agents as to why some of their containers have remained in customs. When asked about the issues that the traders were experiencing, the agents were not available for comment and the exhibitors at the stall seemed hesitant to give more information.
With social responsibility being the main highlight for the trade show, as published on their website 10 July 2017, Berlin Bazaar has failed to cover some of their traders with relevant logistical information regarding containers and what processes to follow to ensure the smooth delivery of goods from Zimbabwe. The German customs are yet to provide information on the matter.
Due to financial restrictions from the exhibitors side, no insurance was taken out on the containers. The money was spent on visas for the team to travel to Germany instead. “We couldn’t afford to pay for insurance and for our visa, so we decided to only pay for the visas in order to save money,” says one designer representing the Cross Borders Association.
The Berlin Bazaar prides itself on locally sourced materials that are sustainable and fall within the fair-trade category, as stated in their PR releases for their 2016 exhibition. “My return on investment isn’t worth me coming to Berlin for a few days to sell this African products for the designers,” informs Muchamaya, which leaves him confused and disorganised.
With the event pushing social responsibility and connecting businesses with socially responsible causes, the questions remains: how many of these initiatives are marketing tactics to increase foot traffic to the fair without it being a loss to the designers working there? When looking around, the only social responsible brand visible to the general public was UNICEF.
As yet, no programs or initiatives are put in place to help help sellers from non-EU states. There seems to be a loophole in how easily accessible and profitable this fair can be for up and coming traders, especially coming from Africa. Currently, it seems unfair for traders to travel from other continents to participate in the Bazaar.
Due to the high competition of traders, as seen within just the African arts and crafts section of the bazaar, many of sellers share the sentiment that they are losing out profitable business when attending this event. “It just costs us too much to travel here and we cannot afford to pay the accommodation, the flights and not be able to sell a lot of our items” informs an African trader, who has chosen to remain anonymous.
The Berlin Bazaar pushes locally sourced materials, but the question remains, are some locally sourced materials more relevant than others? A few material materials do not always make it to the fair which leaves some traders anxious that half of their stock is missing. “The high competition makes it hard for me to increase my profits and sometimes I feel that this is all a big waste of time” says another anonymous designer.
With the Zimbabwean economy on a continuous downward slope, along with strong German bureaucratic laws making it hard for products to pass through customs, how easy it is for African sellers to sell their products without losing on their investment?