A Wedding and Some Funerals

The decision on how to spend Fair Trade premium payments rests with the primary producers. In the case of plantations, a representative ‘joint body’ of plantation workers decides. And over the years, they have come up with some surprising decisions. Two examples show the breadth of usage – and their implications:
Fifty-two year old S. V. Chitra is a supervisor on the New Ambadi Rubber Estate in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. When his younger daughter, Vasudevan, got married, the joint body gave him a Rs 40,000 (ca. EUR 470) interest free loan. No, this did not pay for the one thousand people who attended the wedding – thankfully it’s a tradition in Tamil Nadu that the wedding guests contribute enough money to cover the catering costs. The money was used to top up Vasudevan’s savings – she is a schoolteacher – and to buy gold jewellery.
To go to the gold bazar of the nearest town and shop for golden necklaces and bangles may sound like a fun day out, but that is not the point. Gold jewellery is a solid financial investment (which is why the gold price goes up during the wedding season. Though Vasudevan became part of her husband’s family on her wedding day, the jewellery remained her’s and she can decide what to do with it. The official line is that (like her mother) she will probably pass some of it on to her daughters on their wedding days. But there is a subtext too: should Vasudevan’s marriage fail she will have a nest egg to start over. Even if her husband or her in-laws don’t like Vasudevan’s decision to keep her job for the time being, her nest egg gives her the freedom to do it nevertheless. And that’s how an interest free loan financed through a Fair Trade premium makes a difference: To S.V. Chitra because the wedding of his youngest daughter hasn’t plunged him into debt. And to Vasudevan who has the freedom to decide about her future.
At Lalan’s Sapumalkande Group in Sri Lanka the joint body invested in the purchase of items that are hired out for all kinds of celebrations, from weddings to funerals: With an average of 50-300 people attending, hiring everything from commercial supplies is expensive (if too many people attend, feeding them is spread out over days in groups).
The store put together by the joint body consists of three ‘towers’ of cooking vessels of eight pots each, sized from 8×16 to 17×34 inches. There are also pans, scoops, three tents etc. The implements were purchased following a tender focused on quality, not just on price – the successful supplier added a gas cooker as a bonus.
There is also sound system, but this is only hired out manned by Dhammika. His day job is in the office, but he gets a bonus of SLR 750 (ca. EUR 3.40) per day for looking after the sound system. By comparison: The hire of one of the biggest pots costs SLR 50/day. Mostly transport can be arranged via plantation vehicles – which usually have business nearby in any case. Hiring from the joint body store means a tremendous saving for the plantation workers, the joint body charges just 25% of local alternatives (most renters provide their own cook).
Often the reason for hirings are funerals – and for these there are also three white (the colour of mourning) banners mentioning Fair Rubber … Previously, people joined ‘funeral societies’, and paid SLR 100-200 month: While most deaths are sad affairs indeed – at least they are no longer cause for these plantation workers to take on unsustainable debt – or saving over a life time just to avoid financial ruin on top of the emotional pain.