Blog: Embroidery and Guns – Nawal’s story

October 17, 2018

Next time you’re cursing the traffic on your commute, or things that are getting in the way of you achieving something you’ve set your heart on, or a bully at work… think of Nawal Slemiah, the woman who built up a thriving handicraft business and community organisation against all the odds in Israeli occupied Hebron.

Last night, the diminutive Palestinian woman stood beside the lectern in Lady Margaret Hall College, Oxford (she would not have been visible behind it), and – without slides or notes – she spoke for 45 riveting minutes about how she built up Women in Hebron, from nothing in the divided city.

She described her first trip to Hebron from her village – a trip that would take 15 minutes if not for the roadblocks. She’d been surprised to learn that a woman she met earlier lived in the Palestinian part of the city (which had been divided by occupying Israeli forces in 1995). She didn’t know anyone lived in the ghost town anymore.

So she decided to go there and try her luck at selling her traditional embroidery – that her mother had taught her how to make. Her university education had been interrupted, and she had no other form of income. She described standing outside the mosque holding out a few pieces of her work.

A man approached her and said “Instead of standing there looking like you are begging, come with me and I’ll give you a shop to sell from”. Nawal didn’t hesitate. She followed the stranger and her trust paid off. He was trying to encourage people to come back to the Palestinian part of Hebron and repopulate the deserted shops.

Years of determination, hard work, courage and intricately, beautifully embroidered pieces later and Nawal was sitting in her shop with a group of women – some widowed, some whose husbands had been incarcerated – who could now make a living selling their handicrafts, mainly to the foreign visitors who come to bear witness to the occupation.

Nawal described how she and her friends were talking and laughing, when an Israeli soldier came in and demanded to know what she was laughing about. Nawal was furious and stood up to him. “Don’t you know that I can just arrest you? Or kill you?” he said. She refused to back down and eventually he left. Standing up to bullies often pays off. After years of similar incidents, the shop is now largely left in peace.

But Nawal and her family and neighbours still live in a country characterized by conflict. Her nine year old daughter is terrified of the guns and Nawal is glad that she hasn’t got used to them. And it is against this background that she and 150 other women produce their beautiful wares and have set up a community centre where they can meet and support each other.

The Women in Hebron website says “Our work is based on the idea that developing Palestinian handicrafts is more than just an income-generating project. It is in of itself an act of community-strengthening, of honoring the role of women in our society, and a means to show sumud – steadfastness – in the face of the occupation of Palestine and the harm it has done to the people of Hebron”.

Nawal’s story reminded us that business is so much more than profit generation; business is about exchanging ideas and goodwill as much as about exchanging goods and money. It’s about building community rather than building empires. Every business is a form of community – a community of suppliers, traders, and customers.

Nawal proudly tells us that Women in Hebron is now a World Fair Trade Organisation certified producer. She has high hopes to sell more of their products in shops in the UK and elsewhere. And I know by now that if Nawal puts her mind to something – it will happen. This woman really can do anything.

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OFTC Talk 15th October 7pm – 9pm: Fair Trade in Palestine with Nawal Slemiah, Founder and Director of Women in Hebron Fair Trade Cooperative

October 3, 2018

Poster 15 Oct

Fair Trade in Palestine with Nawal Slemiah
Founder and Director of Women in Hebron Fair Trade Cooperative
Venue:  Simpkins Lee Theatre, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
Date:  Monday 15 October 2018
Time: 7.00 – 9.00 pm
Tickets on the door:  £5 / Students free
(All funds/donations will go to OFTC and Women of Hebron)
Refreshments available
http://www.facebook.com/OxfordFairTrade

In May 2018, Carol Wills and Elizabeth Laskar went on the first ever Fair Trade tour of Palestine, organised by the Holyland Handicrafts Cooperative Society and the University of Bethlehem Fair Trade Resource Centre, and met Nawal Slemiah at the Women in Hebron Cooperative.  They will speak about the journey they made.  Nawal will talk about the work the cooperative does to empower Palestinian women and keep Palestinian culture and traditional handicrafts alive.    There will be an opportunity to buy and order goods from Women of Hebron before and after the talk.  OFTC will be covering some of Nawal’s costs for her visit to Oxford – please donate generously.


Renewing Fair Trade – in Oxford and worldwide

September 26, 2018

2018 Oxford Fairtrade City Status Town HallYesterday, September the 25th, was the 3rd anniversary of the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals – the ambitious but achievable UN roadmap for a fairer, healthier, safer world.

It was also the day of the global launch of International Fair Trade Charter. Initiated by Fairtrade International and the World Fair Trade Organisation, it sets down the fundamental values of Fair Trade and defines a common vision towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). A vision that, we believe, cannot be attained through business as usual.

And it was the day that, on behalf of Oxford Fair Trade Coalition and the Fairtrade Foundation, I was proud to present the Lord Mayor of Oxford with the certificate of renewal for Oxford’s status as a Fairtrade City.

It was a fitting recognition of the commitment of the many Oxford businesses, organisations and individuals who are working for and promoting fair trading between producers all over the world and the people of Oxford.

They model a different kind of business… a kinder kind of business. The kind of business which supports sustainable development.

Oxford has been one of the cradles of the fair trade movement – the first Oxfam shop, the precursor of all fair trade shops, selling crafts made by Chinese refugees, is here in Oxford.

The world’s first Fairtrade University, Oxford Brookes is here in Oxford. Now six colleges of Oxford University have recently also gained Fairtrade status.

The World Fair Trade Organisation began life as part of Oxfam here in Oxford and its CEO, Erinch Sahan is coming to Oxford to speak at our AGM on December 10th – International Human Rights Day (put it in your diaries!).

Importantly, we have several dedicated fair trade shops here in Oxford, including Fairtrade at St Michael’s – that celebrates its 15th anniversary this year – Exclusive Roots in St Giles, Indigo in Cowley Road and Headington Fairtrade… that was graced with a visit by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

And,  of course, Oxford City Council has continued to play its important part in keeping the city Fairtrade – its procurement policy now requires suppliers to provide Fairtrade alternatives where possible.

As the Lord Mayor said, Oxford is “a city of influencers” – let’s use that influence to create a global trading system populated by supply chains and models of business that leave no one behind.

Oxford Fair Trade Coalition will continue to draw on our city’s deep roots in fair trade, its history of thought leadership and its global reach through its thousands of students and visitors every year –  to support the fair trade movement and the Sustainable Development Goals.  Please do join us in doing so.

Sabita Banerji – Chair, OFTC

[1] The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2018

[2] World Inequality Report 2018


One World Fair and Fair Trade Festival

September 4, 2018

The One World Fair returns to Oxford Town Hall on Saturday 3rd November 10-5… but this time it is also a Fair Trade Festival!

This year Oxford Oxfam Group is partnering with the Oxford Fair Trade Coalition and Oxford City Council in making the event bigger and better than ever, and with a renewed and deeper focus on Fair Trade, celebrating Oxford being awarded Fair Trade City status.

The main hall will be used for stalls as usual, and the Assembly Rooms will host an expanded cafe, fair trade stalls, other fair trade exhibits and live music. Please do get in touch at oxfordfairtrade@gmail.com if you’d like to put on a talk, activity or information stall in the Assembly Rooms. We request a suggested minimum donation of £10 on the day.

If you would like a stall to sell products in the Main Hall please register at https://goo.gl/forms/US6NsYXE7LoXEFy92
Prices start from £20 for non-profits and £30 for businesses.

Get in touch for more information.

Register for a Fairtrade Regional Conference 2018

July 30, 2018

FT Conference 2018

Register for conference here


The First Fair Trade Tour of Palestine May 2018

July 26, 2018
IMG_6759
(Picture: Delegates were invited to wear the traditional dress of Palestine)

By Carol Wills

In early May 2018, Elizabeth Laskar and I joined the first ever Fair Trade Tour of Palestine, culminating in the celebration of World Fair Trade Day at the University of Bethlehem Fair Trade Resource Centre on Saturday 12 May.

We saw how Fair Trade enterprises support Palestinian traditional culture, preserve traditional crafts and provide thousands of farmers and other producers, many of them women working from home,  with a much needed income and with hope that a better life is possible.

Our tour took place in the West Bank (also known as the Occupied Territories) where Palestinian Fair Trade producers live and work in extremely difficult circumstances under a military occupation that has gone on for over 50 years.  Alongside our Fair Trade visits we heard many heart breaking stories of people who had lost loved ones and suffered injustices. On top of this, the economic situation is harsh and unemployment is high.

Nevertheless, we were made hugely welcome wherever we went, drinking little cups of mint tea and very strong black coffee and eating enormous quantities of local couscous, hummus and tomato, cucumber and mint salad.  Our tour started at Canaan Fair Trade which produces the olive oil sold by Zaytoun and where we enjoyed an olive oil tasting before touring the impressive facility.  It is a cooperative of more than 2000 olive farmers.

At the Palestinian Agricultural Research Centre in Jericho, a member of the WFTO, we saw how grapes are dried to produce Fair Trade sultanas and raisins and met a group of women rolling couscous by hand.  The Women of Hebron Cooperative Association produces fine, traditional embroidery and backstrap loom woven wool carpets.  Most women work from home but come to the Centre with their work, to attend meetings, take part in decision-making and have the chance to gossip.   Men work at the Hebron glass and ceramic factory nearby, where Traidcraft places orders.

In Jerusalem we visited Sunbula Fair Trade, also a WFTO member, working to bring fresh designs and colour to traditional embroidery  and providing an income to several thousand women.  Sunbula means “spike of wheat” in Arabic (i.e. the flower that makes bread) and Sunbula’s mission is  to provide its producers with the gift of a more dignified life.

Finally we reached Bethlehem and the Holyland Handicraft Cooperative  Society where we saw some fine olive wood carving in their magnificent shop by the Field where the shepherds watched their flocks by night not far from the appalling wall where Banksy has his Walled Off Hotel.

On World Fair Trade Day we donned traditional Palestinian dress to celebrate at the University.

We came home convinced that if Palestinians are going to have any chance of a sustainable future at all, we must tell their stories and buy their products.


OFTC Notice – Privacy Policy

May 25, 2018

Purpose:  This policy explains when and why we collect personal information about people who subscribe to our mailing list, how we use it, the conditions under which we may disclose it to others and how we keep it secure.  We may change this policy from time to time so please check this page occasionally to ensure that you’re happy with any changes.

Scope:  This policy applies to anyone that contacts us via our website, by email or at an event.

Policy Statement:  The Oxford Fair Trade Coalition is committed to protecting and respecting your privacy and keeping any information we have about you secure.

Who are we?  We are The Oxford Fair Trade Coalition, an independent, not for profit organisation working in Oxford and the surrounding areas.

How do we collect information from you?  We obtain information about you when you contact us electronically or at an event, or if you register to receive our newsletter.

What type of information is collected from you?  The personal information we collect might include your name, address, any organisation you represent and an email address.

How is your information used?  We may use your information to:

  • send you communications which you have requested and that may be of interest to you. These may include information about events, campaigns, appeals, other activities.
  • seek your views or comments on the activities we provide;
  • notify you of changes to activities;

We review our retention periods for personal information on a regular basis. We are legally required to hold some types of information to fulfil our statutory obligations. We will hold your personal information on our systems for as long as is necessary for the relevant activity, or until you ask us not to.

Who has access to your information?  We use a third party electronic mail services provider to hold the data and we manage our agreement with them to ensure they process your data securely and appropriately.

Only the Chair of the Coalition and those members responsible for managing events and communications will have access to the system that we use to store your data.

We will not sell or rent your information to third parties

We will not share your information with third parties for marketing purposes.

Your choices:  You have a choice about whether or not you wish to receive information from us. If you do not want to receive communications from us about the work we do then you can

  • select your choices by ticking the relevant boxes on the form on which we collect your information.
  • Or email us at chairoftc@gmail.com
  • Or unsubscribe when you receive an electronic newsletter

How you can access and update your information:  The accuracy of your information is important to us. We’re working on ways to make it easier for you to review and correct the information that we hold about you. In the meantime, please email us at chairoftc@gmail.com if you would like to check or change any information we hold about you.  You have the right to ask for a copy of the information we hold about you.

16 or under: We are concerned to protect the privacy of children aged 16 or under. If you are aged 16 or under‚ please get your parent/guardian’s permission beforehand whenever you provide us with personal information.

With thanks from the Oxford Fair Trade Coalition