Meet Salma: Producing fair trade coffins has helped to lift her family out of poverty

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Death is bringing new life to Salma and her family, along with many other workers in Bangladesh through Fairtrade.

After many years of living in extreme poverty, Salma has secured a job with a much higher wage that has enabled her to purchase land for a family home, send her children to school and is set to help her husband receive a regular wage.

In northern Bangladesh, Oasis Coffins in Nilphamari, a small village 400km north of the capital city, Dhaka, helps to support a district that suffers from extreme poverty by offering the support of fair trade principles to its workers — alongside benefits such as a pension, holiday and sick pay and healthcare cover.

Salma's story chimes with the 70 other employees who handcraft bamboo, seagrass and willow coffins — and they all receive 30 per cent extra pay above what is expected for garment workers in Bangladesh.

Alongside her husband, Masum, Salma is responsible for supporting her four sons. Masum is an agricultural day labourer without regular or reliable income due to being paid on a daily basis, as and when work is available. With the district suffering from seasonal unemployment this creates a high incidence of family fragmentation and vulnerability while parents search for employment.


At Oasis Coffins, more than 50 per cent of the 70 workers are women.
 
 

Salma's only daughter died 15 years ago following a fever that she was unable to treat. Most of her family also have special needs that requires Salma's attention and medical help. As well as a young, three-year-old boy, Salma's nine-year-old son has a disability with his speech, while her 12-year-old son is unable to walk because both of his hands and feet are weak. Salma also has an 18-year-old son who is now married, but is unable to support his mother.

Many years ago Salma was a leprosy patient who was successfully treated at the nearby Leprosy Mission Hospital. It was during this time that was she was able to learn tailoring — a skill that would later edge her closer away from extremely poor living conditions. Now Salma is involved in weaving and stitching the coffin handles at the fair trade organisation.

Before she started to work for Oasis, Salma received much lower wages by working as a maid for two years. During that time, Salma and her family lived in a bamboo hut, which was often blown away by storms during the monsoon season.

With an increase in salary, Salma was able to save more money each month, and this — alongside a loan from a local NGO — gave her family the opportunity to purchase their own land and build their own home.

This loan has now been paid off, and Salma is planning to take a fresh loan to buy land for her husband to cultivate. With increased stability in her family, her 12 and nine year old sons have now been able to go to school.

Oasis Coffins started life in 2006 — and purposely chose the area in rural Bangladesh because of its extreme poverty and lack of secure employment, plus due to its close proximity to locally-grown bamboo plants. Through a charity called Supoth, the fair trade organisation works with 40 producers in the region and ensure the fair prices are past down the production chain.

• Oasis Coffins can be bought in the Netherlands and the UK — where they are also available for sale through Co-operative Funeralcare branches. For more details, visit: oasiscoffins.com

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About Anthony Murray

Executive Editor of Co-operative News