It’s certainly a popular question. Who are the actual artisans that make the Fair Trade products that are now available for us to buy?

Well, Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan (or MKS) are one of the groups that do.
They are based in Mukundapur, Kolkata, which is in West Bengal, India.

Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan (MKS) was founded in 1994 and is a non-profit organisation. It’s aim is to create a market for small artisan groups and those economically weaker sections of local society to flourish.

They do this by offering a fair price for their products. And to ensure that these artisans can obtain the raw materials they use for their crafting at a fair and reasonable ongoing price.
MKS underlines the vital importance of sustainable wages and steady, regular incomes for all the artisans they represent. In this way, they  work towards becoming self-reliant.

Part of MKS’s “mission” is to preserve and promote the traditional crafts of India. It’s also important to help them remain competitive in the foreign export market to places like the UK.

MKS Fair Trade female producers in India leather purses & wallets

MKS Fair Trade female producers in India leather purses & wallets

MKS works closely with a variety of artisan groups that create leather, wood, stone, silk and brass products.
They encourage environmentally-friendly processes wherever these are possible. This is done by ensuring compliance to ‘green’ technology at all levels, including production, packaging and shipment.

The products sold by The FAIR Trade Store, for example, are shipped from India to the UK by boat, rather than by aeroplane.

Another key point is that the organisation helps artisans develop their own skills and become self-reliant and lead a better life.
The organisation also want to empower women and physically challenged people by creating job, career and life opportunities for them.
MKS’s social commitments include education, monetary loans and financial aid, medical aid and support.

Rewardingly, as their work develops, they report a significantly increased awareness from the artisans of their knowledge and awareness of the Fair Trade movement and their commitment to product development.

Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan or MKS is based in Kolkata, India female artisan

Based in Kolkata this female artisan is busy weaving

Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan (MKS) have been a World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) – Guaranteed Fair Trade member since 1997.
They want to stay committed to the Fair Trade principles as outlined by the WFTO.

Some of these Fair Trade principles include:

•   They do not discriminate in wages and working conditions on the basis of caste, gender, religion or creed.
•   Significantly, they do not employ anyone under 18 years of age anywhere in their activities.
•   As a result, they never to force any people to work in the organisation against their wishes.
•   They carry out training programmes in financial matters and other social fields like fire safety and health care.
•   Payment of a “fair price” to producers and a minimum wage to all artisans, ensuring equality.
•   Transparency and accountability is evident in all they do.

A little about the Fair Trade Products:

Amongst the range of items Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan (MKS) creates are “Shanti leather” goods. These are traditional products crafted in Santiniketan and surrounding villages near Kolkata, West Bengal, India.

The raw material used is tanned sheepskin or goatskin leather. It is dyed with vegetable colours and with artwork done by a process of “touch dyeing”.

Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan (MKS) Kolkata, India leather goods

Close-up of leather goods

The vegetable tanned skins used in production have the quality of permanently retaining the embossed imprint of motifs, images or “batik” prints.
Also a cotton pad or a glass, which has a smooth surface, is used to make the grains of the leather shine.
So products include handbags, jewellery boxes, piggy banks, pencil cases, coin purses, wallets and spectacle cases.

Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan or MKS is based in Kolkata, India Shanti leather

Cutting the leather with basic hand-held tools – Shanti leather

So if you wanted to buy one of their products?

The FAIR Trade Store stocks a range of Madhya Kalikata Shilpangan (or MKS) products.
They include this leather elephant money box, purses, cases and coin purses for children

Remember, washing and drying, cutting and embossing are done by the master craftsmen.
Individual artisans then take the material with them to work on in their homes, producing these attractive, traditional Indian designs.

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