The COVID-19 virus has caused havoc in the entire world and has been declared a global pandemic which has engulfed the world. In the very early stages of the pandemic, the Indian Government declared a total lockdown of India from March 24. Movement within the country was completely prohibited and international flights stopped. Millions have lost their jobs and many more are finding it difficult to sustain their livelihoods after having no work for more than 5 months. Even now, the local Government has been shutting down the city completely for some days of the week.
During this period of crisis, CRC has been supporting its artisan partners in every possible way since the onset of the pandemic. Some of the key highlights:
As early as March 15, CRC was one the first organizations to shut down offices fearing the worst.
Over the next 3 months, CRC remained shut. Some work was done via Skype and Zoom, but no physical meetings were held.
During this period, all shipments stopped. Artisans could not send their finished products to CRC for checking and packing.
During this period, due payment was sent to all producer groups on time.
Cash funds were given to producers to complete their work and procure two square meals a day for the family.
All CRC staff were paid their salary.
CRC has always saved as much as possible into a corpus/emergency fund. These funds were now used.
DURING COMPLETE LOCKDOWN
Two tailoring units in Kolkata were working on the GEPA order for organic cotton bags (bread, fruit, etc.).
When travel restrictions were imposed, some artisans at the tailoring unit in the city of Kolkata were stranded. They could not go back to their hometowns in different states and neither did they have the means and opportunity to rent a shelter somewhere.
At this point, CRC along with the producer leader of the group stepped in to offer assistance. The artisans were given place to stay in the workshop itself. Cash funds were also given at times when required.
The workshop was thoroughly sanitized and all safety precautions were taken care of during their work and stay. Masks, gloves and sanitizers were given to each worker and social distancing was maintained while at work.
The leather workshop had been completely shut down when the lockdown was announced.
All artisans were sent back to their homes fearing infection of the virus. No work took place during this time and all salaried artisans of the workshop were paid their monthly salary. • In addition to funds for artisan groups, CRC also donated and helped started a “citizen’s movement” called #GiveALittle to provide relief to those who had no jobs and income (please ask if you want further details). This effort in particular focused on helping people after the disastrous Cyclone Amphan struck our city during the pandemic.
The Indian Government started opening the economy again from July 15.
Once lockdown was eased and only certain restrictions were imposed, artisan groups began to resume work again.
The tailoring group had never stopped working and CRC has been giving orders to the producer consistently.
At the leather workshop, a few artisans were allowed to return and start pending work. Initially only the packing and checking team worked to complete and ready existing items for shipping.
Many who could not return from their hometowns due to lack of transport were assured that they would be welcome to join when they could afford to return.
The entire unit had been working at roughly 40% capacity. Artisans were allowed to stay at the workshop in order to avoid extensive travel back and forth.
Sanitization supplies are regularly provided. CRC assisted the group in procuring clean and distilled drinking water as well.
Midway, after work resumed one of the artisans who had joined work fell ill and showed symptoms for the virus. He was immediately advised to get a testing done and present the report.
The whole workshop was shut down for a week and a complete sanitization of the premises was done.
CRC gave constant support both monetarily and emotionally. After due treatment and a month’s leave the artisan joined work again after testing negative. In general, the safety of all artisan partners has been taken into consideration by the organization. Monetary assistance has been provided to producers whenever they have felt the need to consult a doctor. Reimbursement for undergoing COVID test has been offered and all safety precautions are being taken by staff members while at work.
India was effectively closed for 3 months. As a result, all aspects of CRC’s work have been delayed.
Some artisans managed to keep working at home during the lockdown.
In July and August, a huge quantity of finished products from artisan groups have been accumulating at the CRC office.
The Quality Checking and Packing Team have been working hard to catch-up on past shipments, but it is difficult to make up for 3 months of lost time.
The CRC Autumn/Winter 2021 Catalog which was scheduled to be published in July, has been pushed back to October.
The leather workshop production schedule has been badly impacted. All production stopped for 3 months, so it is now trying very hard to catch-up.
During these days, raw material sourcing is also difficult. Supply-chains across India have been disrupted, and prices have increased.
Shipping and transportation, both domestic and international, is a challenge because of very few flights and trains operating.
The situation in India is terrible. Even after 6 months of lockdown, the average increase in number of Covid-19 cases in India is roughly 95,000 per day. Estimates show that almost 100 million people have fallen back below the poverty line. Millions of informal and small-scale sector workers have lost their jobs and migrated back to their villages from towns, spreading the virus even further. There is little Government assistance. The gap between rich and poor is wide, visible and increasing.
In the middle of this, we are very proud that as part of the Fair Trade movement, we have continued the work of empowering marginalized artisans. It is not easy right now. Shipments are late, cash flow is slow, there are hundreds of problems. In spite of this, CRC will continue in its mission to support its producer groups and artisan partners. We are very grateful for our trading partners in Europe and America who have stood by us. Not one single order has been cancelled and shipping problems are being solved together. We will stand together in unity to help our artisans revive post-pandemic.
Some of the newest product additions in the Cobourg store from the artisan makers at CRC.