Interview with Donald Grant, children's book author and illustrator of the picture block

Picture Block on Child LabourOn the occasion of the fight for the rights of children, the Aid by Trade Foundation (ABTF) and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative in collaboration with the prestigious American children's book author Donald Grant publishes illustrations on child labor. The picture block is used as training material during CmiA cotton cultivation trainings in order to inform the people living in Sub-Saharan Africa about this important issue and to sensitize them. On Friday, the Foundation has invited its partners and local representatives of political and economic institutions to a workshop taking place in Zambia in order to discuss on the protection of children as well as on the newly created CmiA illustrations. In an interview, Grant reports on the project and his gained experiences on the ground.

Why did you choose to become an author for children's books?

Travelling for me has been the best school of life I could imagine. It has given me the chance to observe and reflect about my own life and of those around me. On one of my travels that led me to India, I experienced one unforgettable moment: Walking the hard back streets of Delhi I noticed through an open doorway of a small workshop a young girl who seemed incredibly sad. She looked like a princess dressed as they do there. She looked up at me and I was able to exchange a fleeting glance of eye contact with her. She was working making carpets with other girls just like her, most likely through forced labor. I will never forget that moment which eventually brought me to create children's books dealing with cultural issues, children's rights, and lifestyles.

What is your biggest challenge working as an author?

The biggest challenge in producing children's books on these issues are that potential buyers might feel over protective with their children. These realistic stories of life might seem to be negative to adults but I have found children to be extremely adaptable and understanding when the subject's are correctly presented.

Child labor is a very complex and difficult theme to deal with -- especially in a picture's block. How did you tackle your task?

At first, I had to learn in theory what child labor means. AbTF strictly forbids all forms of exploitative child labor and adheres to the respective ILO conventions. However, what do these regulations mean in practice? I had to figure out for myself what the conventions forbid and what they allow. Therefore, I travelled to those areas in Sub Saharan Africa where Cotton made in Africa cotton is grown. During my trips, I accompanied the verifiers who go to the fields and verify if the CmiA farmers respect the CmiA exclusion and sustainability criteria. An integral part of the exclusion criteria is e.g. the ban on child labor. Additionally, I participated in workshops on child labor. Most important for me though was to get to meet the people firsthand the picture's block address -- the smallholder cotton farmers and their families. I made many sketches beforehand, during and after my trip when I was in the CmiA project regions but to be honest, I created my best drawings during the long journeys in the 4X4 while going from one place to another. These took me through some wonderfully beautiful African countryside. The images I gained along the way and in the villages helped and inspired me enormously.

How did the CmiA farmers and their families react to you and the theme you wanted to talk about with them -- child labor?

At first, they appeared nervous to talk about this subject, especially with me, an European. However, when I explained with the support of the local CmiA teams that I wanted them to explain to me what child labor means to them and that I wanted to learn from them, I was able to gain their confidence. Laws concerning child labor are confusing at best and abstract to these illiterate smallholder farmers, but they do want to know what is considered acceptable or not. Nevertheless, when I asked them to explain to me what children should or shouldn't do, they seemed to have a clear image about that. Their openness and willingness to help me was essential for my work.

You have travelled the world and have already published many books. What was the main challenge you had to face with this project?

The most difficult part of the project was to distinguish between what is "help", "work" or "labor" on the family farm. This is not as easy as one might think. I wanted to create a realistic picture that interprets the requirements of the CmiA standard in day-to-day situations of an African farmer's family. Additionally, I wanted to show them what their children could do -- according to the international conventions. The farmers explained the fear that their children would become lazy if they had no work to do and would not be prepared for the future on the farm. Through the imagery created for the picture's block, I want to explain to them that school education doesn't mean that their children will not be part of the family farming learning process. I want to show them that educated children can even be a great asset to their parents, e.g. by reading instructions from training manuals, expiration dates on medicines and farming products, doing math calculations and accounting. Additionally, I had to design a picture block that is self-explanatory for those who cannot read, as there are many illiterate people living in the rural cotton growing areas of CmiA.

What has surprised or impressed you the most on your journey?

The strong and straight-forwarded women I met in the villages impressed me the most. In a male dominated region as this is, one woman came and said to me in private how much she appreciated a girl having an important role within the story. That having the girl go to school and help her illiterate parents calculate, understand and implement the training measures gave her hope for the future. This was wonderful feedback in which I felt a dept towards her to emphasize. Additionally, it was rewarding to have farmers see themselves and their stories in the pictures.

How would you describe the picture block?

The picture's block, which was created for the CmiA families in the African cotton growing areas, shows an exemplary, realistic but simplified image of the daily life of African smallholder farmers and their families. The artwork I used is simpler than my usual style. Why? Because I wanted to focus on the message -- what is allowed according to CmiA standard and what is child labor and thus forbidden within the CmiA system. Besides, I adapted it to the « Boîte à image » established style recognized and common in Sub Saharan Africa. CmiA already uses this practice to especially inform illiterate farmers about e.g. new agricultural training methods. For me, it is a very fruitful and inspiring CmiA project that I am pleased to be involved and to support it.
Donald Grant was born in 1954 in Brooklyn, New York. After his Art Studies at Pratt Institute in the United States, he spent six years traveling the world. His passion for travel lead him to France, where he finally settled thirty years ago. He has illustrated many books for young readers, in fields as diverse as literature, detective novels and fiction. He is also author of children's books and worked with UNICEF and Amnesty International. His last project took him to Sub Saharan Africa where on behalf of the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative he has created a picture block on child labor issues that will be distributed in the cotton growing areas where the Foundation works.

Foundation Discusses Sustainability Strategy with Experts from the U.S. Textile Industry

AbTF Intensifies Dialogue with US American RetailTo reflect the increasing importance of sustainable raw materials for retail trade, the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) in collaboration with the consulting firm Accenture invited experts from the American textile industry to New York City. The goal was to provide information about the use of sustainable cotton as a basis for a responsible clothing industry and to discuss a sustainability strategy for the US market.
Together with experts from the US textile industry and the consulting firm Accenture, Tina Stridde, Managing Director and spokesperson for the AbTF and its Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) initiative, discussed the prominent role of sustainable raw materials for people and the environment. During the workshop, she pointed out that companies can take on responsibility with their demand for raw materials. Already today, many textile companies purchase the Cotton made in Africa cotton as partners of an international demand alliance of the same name. They benefit from an array of communication options as well as by the fact that the Cotton made in Africa standard is reliable and transparent, while also perfectly combining sustainability with practicality. During the dialogue, the question was discussed whether the North American market requires a particular marketing approach. The initial conclusion showed that even in the very price-sensitive US market, there is great interest in sustainable raw materials and importance is particularly attached to a transparent and efficiently organized supply chain.

CmiA supports international day of action aiming to change the fashion industry

Fashion Revolution Day 2014Cotton made in Africa supports Fashion Revolution Day taking place on Thursday, 24th of April 2014. The action day that has been created in memorial to the Rana Plaza tragedy in Dhaka, Bangladesh encourages people to start asking 'who made my clothes?'. Fashion Revolution Day has been initiated to create human connections throughout the supply chain. It focuses not only on the textile industry in Asia but also on cotton producers in other regions e.g. in Africa.

„Under the slogan ,Who made your clothes?‘ we do not only approach the catastrophic working conditions in the producing countries. We simoultaneously want to show alternatives and positive examples. Because we know that fashion can also be produced in accordance with human beings and nature,“ explains Carina Bischof, Upcycling Fashion Store Berlin and member of the German committee of Fashion Revolution Day. For the first Fashion Revolution Day, people worlwide are asked to wear their clothes inside out in order to change the way they look at the clothes they wear.

Cotton made in Africa helps smallholder cotton farmers and their families help themselves through trade in order to improve the social, economical and ecological living conditions of smallholder cotton farmers and their families in Sub-Saharan Africa. Through training programs, Cotton made in Africa teaches the cotton farmers about modern, efficient, and environmentally friendly cultivation methods that help them improve the quality of their cotton, yield higher crops, and thus earn a better income. Partnering textile companies purchase the CmiA cotton and process it further. With each purchase of CmiA-products you can make a valuable contribution to Africa’s long-term future and to a sustainable cotton production. 

Guest Blog Post by Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, ISEAL Alliance
ISEALISEAL, as the global membership organisation for sustainability standards, is the leading authority on what good practice looks like in this space. As a subscriber the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF) align with ISEAL's mission to benefit people and the planet and is part of a community that is aiming to strengthen the standards movement. As one of the largest organizations for sustainable cotton, representatives of the foundation regularly participate in ISAEL meetings. With experts and the standards community, they discuss and further develop different approaches and the impact of sustainability standards. One major theme is the claims jungle, Amy Jackson, Senior Credibility Manager, at ISEAL Alliance stresses in our guest blog:

"Today we can say that there is a definitive movement of sustainability standards and certification, with the recent showing that certified goods across sixteen leading certification programmes in ten commodities now hold an estimated trade value of USD 31.6 billion (as of 2012). At the same time, there are hundreds of standards and certifications programmes on the market, and not all of them are credible.

Most people engage with sustainability standards through an ecolabel, certification mark or some other type of sustainability message, and bringing clarity to this often confusing landscape is a challenge that ISEAL is now taking on. For those that use standards and need to interpret sustainability claims -- particularly buyers and NGOs that advise these buyers - we want to improve their ability to navigate this jungle and differentiate those claims that relate to trustworthy sustainability standards versus those that might actually be greenwashing.

We are approaching this challenge on two fronts -- on the one side developing a Good Practice Guide for certification programmes, and on the other, a navigation tool for people trying to understand different claims. The Good Practice Guide will be an international reference for any certification programme to strengthen its claims and labelling processes. It will provide the building blocks to manage claims and reduce the risk of inaccuracy or confusion. This includes clear protocol for who can make a claim or use a label, also how procedures for monitoring these claims and dealing with label misuse.

We are also hoping to drive dialogue in particular key areas. This could include a common understanding of what makes a 'complete claim' (is a logo sufficient on its own?) and consistency in the language that is used on certified products. The navigation tool will be a user-friendly way for stakeholders to make informed decisions about the sustainability labels they are contemplating using and, ultimately, we hope it reduces the proliferation of non-credible claims. It will be a sort of decision tree that leads people through the essential questions they need to ask, such as 'what type of claim is being made' and 'what social or environmental issues does the claim refer to'? It is essential that buyers, retailers, government procurers and others understand the differences between claims, as some are based on compliance with sustainability standards and other rigorous checks, while others might only be labels added for marketing purposes but with no systems beyond them."

Cotton initiative supports an additional 1.5 million people in Africa

CmiA farmers from CameroonAfter successfully completing verification, more than 226,000 smallholder farmers in Cameroon are for the first time growing cotton according to the CmiA standard and are now part of the CmiA initiative. Including the family members of the smallholder farmers, this means that over 1.5 million people will now benefit from the program. Cotton made in Africa has thus been able to further expand its cooperation with smallholder farmer families in Sub-Saharan Africa to round about 660,000 and currently helps over 4.8 million people.

The most important pillar of the Cameroonian economy is agriculture which lies almost entirely in the hands of smallholder farmers. Cotton is traditionally considered one of the main sources of income with which the families in the rural regions of the country earn their livelihood. However, they haven't been able to fully tap the potential of cotton growing to improve their living conditions until now. This is an issue CmiA is dedicated to. By joining the CmiA system, families in Cameroonian families can now also benefit from the income from license fees which are used to pay for CmiA cotton and are reinvested in the project regions. Training programs on modern, efficient, and sustainable cultivation methods assist them, for example, in improving the quality of their cotton, yield higher crops, and thus earn a better income. CmiA works together with the cotton company Sodecoton at the local level. 

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AbTF takes stock of its work in Africa

In 2011, the National Opinion Research Institute (NORC) laid the foundation for measuring the development and success of Cotton made in Africa (CmiA) by conducted field studies in five project countries. Based on these studies, the initiative evaluated the effectiveness of its work through the use of representative surveys in Zambia and Zimbabwe: The result is positive.

The representative surveys show that the harvest results in the CmiA growing area increased by an average of 23% compared to the baseline in 2010. Only through boosting yield can the smallholder farmers increase their financial income in the long term and thus improve their living conditions on their own.

CmiA invests in school infrastructure as part of social projects and awareness-raising. Some 80% of children in the CmiA growing regions now go to school. In 2010, this figure was only 65%. In addition, measuring the initiative's effectiveness provides in-depth insight into the acceptance of training measures CmiA offers in cooperation with the Competitive African Cotton Initiative (COMPACI) and local partners. The farmers use at least two methods to improve soil fertility accordingly: Beyond using organic fertilizer, 80% of the farmers are increasingly focusing on crop rotation. These and other cultivation methods are not only ecologically useful but also pay off through higher crop yields for smallholder farmers.  

Read the: Yield Assessment Methods in COMPACI 2014

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