südsinn - Fair Trade Silver Jewellery

Soi, Pink and Yoboe creating new designs.
Soi, Pink and Yoboe creating new designs.

 

südsinn was founded in 2001 and evolved from a student aid project. The two südsinn partners are ethnologists/political scientists who have spent a long time living, researching and working with the Karen and other minority groups in Thailand. We operate according to our own, very high fair trade criteria and are aware of our responsibility to our suppliers, who we all know personally. We deal with hand-made, high quality, silver jewellery from northern Thailand, which is produced to our designs by members of the Karen mountain people. We sell our products at wholesale throughout Germany and also in Belgium, Austria, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Great Britain. We supply our jewellery to over 380 World Shops, boutiques and all key German fair trade regional centres.

südsinn is an authorised supplier of the fair trade World Shops in Germany and Austria (WLDV and ARGE Österreich).

 

The Karen art of silversmithing in its current form evolved from an aid project set up by the former Queen of Thailand over 50 years ago. With a population of around 450,000, the Karen are the largest minority group in Thailand. In order to provide a new source of income for the Karen, who were being (forcibly) resettled, the Queen initiated a project to teach and promote the art of silversmithing among this mountain people.

südsinn purchases the mostly self-designed sterling silver elements, which are hand-crafted, from the Karen silversmiths for a fair price. Karen and Thai women from Chiang Mai assemble the silver elements according to südsinn designs and combine them with precious stones and other materials to create distinctive items of jewellery. These women have no chance of getting a well-paid job in Thai society due to a lack of education and few employment opportunities. At südsinn, the processing of all the raw materials, right through to the end product, is fairly paid. All the work done by the smiths and the women is also fairly paid. Unfortunately, this does not apply to the extraction of the raw silver and precious stones. Some small and slow progress is currently being made in terms of fair extraction, but this is so slight and so expensive that it is not of any use to the Karen in Thailand. This remains the reserve of German jewellers. However, the Karen confidently make use of the raw materials that industrial societies (we!) have used to build their (our!) prosperity by exploiting large parts of the world. The Karen people buy the silver in Taiwan, which offers the best quality and the highest (claimed) recycled percentage (up to 70%). We try to buy the majority of the precious stones in Thailand from Thai production but that is unfortunately very difficult to monitor. We are constantly working on understanding and improving the distribution channels.

 

The work on südsinn jewellery is coordinated and controlled by women. südsinn provides the preliminary financing. All the women work at home using the free time they have available. This enables them to earn a very good income. They use this money to pay for things such as children's education, new seeds, consumer goods and hospital bills. No children are employed in südsinn production. The children go to school or (in a fantastic new development) to university.

Our definition of fair trade

 

 

"Fair trade is a concept developed by committed people in wealthy industrialised countries. It aims to improve the standard of living of poor people in countries and regions where social systems such as unemployment benefits, pensions and health insurance do not exist and low pay, exploitation and child labour are common. In order to make this concept a reality it is not enough to pay a few more cents for products from poor suppliers. Alongside the introduction of fair pay and health insurance and a ban on child labour, a great deal of education and persuasion needs to be done at the local level. Regular contact and constant communication are essential parts of the process. Fair trade cannot reform or replace social security in marginalised regions. However, fair trade can improve the standard of living for many people and promote an awareness of dignity, fairness and mutual respect. Fair trade is a process: there are setbacks and disappointments as well as successes and great joy. It is often necessary to make compromises: not all materials can be acquired through fair trade means. But we must always do everything that we can. Fair trade needs to be discussed and expanded further. At the same time, fair trade must make economic and professional sense. Only those products that can be competitive in the market are able to ensure worthwhile work and income for all people involved. High quality products and good service are key factors in this regard."

 

Norbert Tomforde