How Do the Women Get Paid?
So, how do the women get paid for their work? That is a question we get frequently. October is Fair Trade Month and we thought it would be a good time to answer that. Our answer sometimes startles people, because WE actually don’t pay the women for their work!!! What??? What I mean to say is that over the course of years of working closely with the Maya Mam Weavers cooperative, we have practiced all of the Fair Trade Principles starting with fair wages, but we have gone farther than that. Historically, “fair trade” has been when companies from the global north purchase crafts and products from producers in developing countries who are socially and economically marginalized for a fair price to sell in a market that can handle higher prices.
Instead of simply purchasing the products from the women to sell in North America, we have worked with the women since 2008, first to organize a cooperative and then to help them develop business skills so that they are now able to run the cooperative on their own. Through education and training-- in literacy, weaving and sewing, and business skills -- the women have developed the ability to take on leadership roles.
Mayamam Weavers in the U.S. markets the products made by Maya Mam Weaving Cooperative, on a business to business basis. Here in the US we purchase and pay for the products we buy from the cooperative, then sell them to wholesalers and consumers in the U.S and Canada. In Guatemala, the cooperative has been working to develop that market, selling to wholesalers and consumers, as well as doing custom weaving for designers and other cooperatives.
So back to the payment question! Within their own business, the women pay themselves based on the work that they complete. The rate of pay is calculated based on the average productivity at an hourly rate. The rate is calculated based on Cajola’s wages, using construction labor as an “unskilled amount” and teachers wages as a “fully skilled” wage. The basic wage rate in the cooperative is about 60% higher than unskilled labor. The highest wage rate is about 90% higher than construction, and comparable to teacher salaries. When the women work as coordinators -- for quality control, production, or sales & marketing -- they earn at that higher hourly rate. The foot loom, backstrap weavers and the seamstresses are paid for the work that they complete. The cooperative has developed flexible work rules so that the women can fulfill their family responsibilities while maintaining a commitment to work.
A few years ago, when some women with secondary education entered the cooperative, they were able to help the other members ask questions and understand the answers about how their pay was calculated. Last year they learned how to do time studies of their work and they have adjusted some of their rates. Of course along with adjusting the rates to be paid, they had to understand how the cost of products impacts the pricing and the profit margin.
In the beginning of 2018 they formed the Sales and Marketing Council, made up of the Production Coordinator, the Sales & Marketing Coordinator, the Finance Coordinator, the Quality Control Coordinator, the New Products Coordinator, and rotating representatives from the three different work areas (foot loom weavers, seamstresses, and backstrap weavers). Their initial objective was to develop the Guatemala market, but it didn’t take long for them to essentially begin to manage the entire business, including human resource issues. The fantastic benefit has been that when the coronavirus pandemic arrived, they were already in a position to manage the business!
We believe that part of the secret to their success lies in all of the members working together in one location. Many artisans in Guatemala work from their homes and the cooperatives they form allow them to market products together and purchase supplies. Because the Maya Mam Weavers cooperative started off all working in one location, they were able to develop and easily share their skills, creative ideas, and areas of expertise to form a TEAM. And that's where the magic lies, in realizing that we are better together.