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Supermarket giant Wal-Mart to sell handicrafts from developing countries


Summary of story from Chicago Tribune, October 13, 2011

The American grocery titan Wal-Mart is to start selling handmade jewellery and clothes made by women in developing countries through their online store.

One-of-a-kind pieces from places including Kenya, Thailand and Guatemala, will be sold at starting next spring. By 2016 they plan to offer goods from two dozen countries, made by as many as 20,000 female artisans.

This is a big move for the corporation normally known for its rock bottom prices and everyday items.

Michele Loeper from the USA’s biggest fair trade retailer, Ten Thousand Villages says, “It certainly does seem in sharp contrast to Wal-Mart’s typical business model.”

“I’m not sure what their model will be,” Loeper said. “From our point of view we work with the artisans to identify a fair income, one that will benefit them and be sustainable.

“We’re the anti-Wal-Mart, a nonprofit company dedicated to providing sustainable income opportunities to artisans in developing countries — I doubt that’s what Wal-Mart is doing here.”

Wal-Mart says they will work with UN and World Trade Organisation schemes to procure the fair trade products.

The online site is said to be an “ideal venue” for women who “may not have the size or scale to sell in our brick-and-mortar stores,” as well as giving them “the benefit of the company’s knowledge about customers, packaging and promotions,” according to Leslie Dach the company’s vice president of corporate affairs.

There has, however, been some questioning of the company’s motives from academic Nelson Lichtenstein, who suspects the move is an attempt to soften the company’s image.

Lichtenstein, author of “The Retail Revolution: How Wal-Mart Created a Brave New World of Business” said it could also mean artisans would be pressured to step up production, “eroding the handmade aspect.”

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