How much of the retail price do the weavers receive?
It varies with each region and bag.
The amount we pay for a bag is set by the weaver and is based on a fair price determined by the time, effort and artistry poured into each piece. We have engaged respected PNG community leaders to liaise between Among Equals and the communities we work with. We pay our liaisons a percentage of each bag price for their knowledge and expertise. It is important to note that all parties are paid before the bag is posted.
We do not bargain or negotiate prices, in fact we offer them a premium price which is higher than what they would receive in the market, resulting in greater financial freedom and decision making for the women and their families. We make sure this premium pricing remains consistent amongst women and communities, as does our purchasing, as to not create disparity or inequality.
Some other key factors include:
- Purchasing bilum directly from the weavers’ homes. This means that they do not have to sit for days, sometime weeks, in the market in harsh conditions, often far away from their family
- Purchasing regularly from each of the communities that we work with, this equates to roughly every 6 weeks
- Purchasing consistently from all weavers to ensure the equal distribution of money throughout the community
- Working with remote communities (such as Telefomin) who have requested their bilum be bought and taken to an international market
What does Among Equals do with the profit from each bag?
Among Equals is a social enterprise charity (see definition below) whose aim is to trade with communities to help engage a wider market for their product. We run via a profit-for-purpose model.
As with all enterprises there are costs for running the business. They include, but are not limited to:
- Freight from PNG to Australia, including packaging and shipping
- Customs & taxes
- Shop and office overheads such as rent, electricity, internet, merchant bank fees
- Website, social media and marketing costs
The principle of Among Equals, Caroline Sherman takes no wage or salary from the business however the business does employ four other people on a part-time basis who receive a wage in exchange for their time and efforts to support the AE mission.
We use whatever profit is left after these costs to purchase more bilum bags and to help liaise with and support the communities we work with. For example, in 2017 at the request of the women and the community, the Blue Haus was built in Fanuifa; a small house with electricity and running water that provides a safe environment for the weavers to work from.
We have calculated that up to June 2018 Among Equals has invested $38,000 AUD into the communities that we are working with.
Our ambition is to significantly increase the market for bilum bags over the next 3 years and by doing so, considerably increase the profits for reinvestment in PNG communities.
How does Among Equals empower women?
Among Equals empowers women by working with them to create a sustainable income, that is both regular and consistent. Women weavers are empowered as key decision makers to choose their own working hours, place of work and set the price of their bilum. We also go direct to the weavers’ homes to purchase bilum which enables them to spend more time with their family and community rather than selling at the market. The women and their families choose how they spend the income made from their bilum sales, unlike charities who guide how communities spend donated money.
We are committed to upholding the World Trade Organisation’s Principles of Fair Trade (2018) in our engagement and agreements with the communities we work in. Such principles include:
- Creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers
- Transparency and accountability
- Fair Trading Practices
- Payment of a Fair Price
- Ensuring no Child Labour or Forced Labour
- Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equality and Freedom of Association
- Ensuring good Working Conditions
- Providing Capacity Building
- Promoting Fair Trade
- Respect for the Environment
We are proud of our ethical approach to working with the women weavers of PNG.
We pose a question for your consideration - how does having a regular income empower you?
How did you develop the mission for Among Equals?
Among Equals has developed its mission through listening and talking with the weavers themselves. We work with communities across PNG, including but not limited to Goroka, Mt. Hagen, Telefomin and Madang. What we have heard consistently since our first engagement in 2014 is the weavers’ desire for a wider market of buyers for the bags that they create. The women told us that they weave bags not knowing when or where or how much they will sell for, often waiting in hope of a customer for days or even weeks in street markets. A greater volume and certainty of sales would create a more sustainable income for them and their families.
Among Equals works closely with a number of community leaders across the highlands of PNG, along with Pacific Trade Invest, an agency that supports economic opportunities in the Pacific Islands by facilitating trade and attracting investment into the region. We particularly value our close friendship with Florence, who has become an Ambassador for Among Equals, as well as Barbara, our Ambassador for the MT Hagen region. Together with them, we consult with the weavers to price the bags so that they receive a significant premium over and above their normal sale price. The amounts differ from bag to bag, region to region, and negotiation is handled by the community leaders themselves.
However, the weavers have told us that the increase in the number of sales and the enormous time saved by not having to stand for days and sometimes weeks in markets have had the biggest impact on their lives.
What is a social enterprise?
According to Social Traders (2018) social enterprises are:
Among Equal identifies as a profit redistribution social enterprise, working to create sustainable and equitable income streams/livelihoods for PNG women weavers and for the preservation of bilum as a traditional art form and handicraft.