“Some people believe in telling stories. Some believe in doing things about which stories will be told in times to come.”
Sharad Sagar – social entrepreneur
Somehow, producing and consuming “ethical” has become a trendy lifestyle today, more than it reveals a true strive for change. Indeed, people often know they want ethics in their life, clothes and coffee, without being able to explain why.
Thinking ethical is not just about saying you care about poor people, only wear organic cotton nor eat lots of quinoa. As a consumer, it is about knowing what the long-term consequences of one single purchase are. As an organization, it is about implementing tangible actions in order to durably improve the living conditions of the communities you are collaborating with, while making sure that the production process allows the preservation of natural resources. It is far from being easy, but it is essential.
Of course, if you are passionate about Cambodian traditional fine Arts & crafts, you will surely find what you are looking for while visiting our crafts workshops, and quench your thirst for exotic journeys and beautiful works of art. It is still important to remember that Artisans Angkor is way more than just a tourist attraction or souvenir shop.
We have a real and authentic social project indeed; Take 5 minutes to discover and understand it!
Providing vocational training in the handicrafts sector
“When planning for a year, plant corn. When planning for a decade, plant trees. When planning for life, train and educate people.” – Chinese Proverb
Artisans Angkor started as the offshoot of an educational project, aiming at helping rural youth find a job near their home villages. Today, we keep offering vocational trainings in handicrafts to Cambodian young people (18-25 years old), and teach them how to master silk weaving, wood and stone carving, ceramics, jewelry, silk painting, gilding, lacquer or silver plating meticulous techniques.
Not only those apprenticeships are – of course – free of charge for the trainees, they receive a compensation during that time. At the end of the 9 months training period, they are guaranteed a steady job if they are happy with their experience and willing to stay with us!
Today, we employ more than 800 artisans in 48 different workshops (Siem Reap Province).
Guaranteeing safe working conditions
“The greatest wealth is health.” - Virgil
When it comes to production processes, you should always care first about the employee’s well-being and safety at work. At Artisans Angkor, all the 1100 employees’ offices and workshops are provided with drinkable water (that we have analyzed once a year), fans (have you any idea of how hot it can get in Cambodia? ) and first-aid boxes. First-aid training sessions are also carried out by the Cambodian Red Cross twice a year, so our artisans can be ready to react at work, but also at home!
Needless to say that we give our artisans Personal Protective Equipment (protective glasses and headsets, handling gloves, protection shoes, masks…) that they wear when needed.
Offering fair compensation packages
“There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness” - Mahatma Gandhi
All our profits – made thanks to the works of art we sell – are reinvested for social purposes, including fair compensation packages for our 800 artisans. In that regard, we try to set up selling prices that are fair to both our customers and artisans. As the doctor Jane Goodal said “generally if you are getting something very cheap—clothes or food—that’s almost certainly proof that people weren’t paid the way they should be paid for it.”
Fair compensation packages include of course fair salaries, but also lots of social advantages, like free and easy access to healthcare (hiring of doctors and specialists), free insurance (accidents are covered 24/7) and pregnancy covering (compensated maternity leaves).
We are also striving to make our organization a happy place to work in thanks to several events we organize (cultural activities for children, team-building trips…) and buy building canteens and daycare centers in the artisans’ workplaces.
Using quality and traditional production processes
“Call it ‘eco-fashion’ if you like, but I think it’s just common sense.” – Livia Firth, Founder ofEco Age
We try to use first-rate quality raw materials that come from Cambodia as much as possible. Our production process is not a massive one; every pieces are carefully checked by our quality controllers, one by one, before they are sent to the shops. Indeed,“It’s time to slow down and consider the true cost of choosing quantity over quality.” (Kate Fletcher – Designer)
Artisans Angkor’s environmental commitment can be seen – among other things – in the natural water treatment system that we set up at our Silk Farm to purify dyed water, so it can be used again for local farming or for our dyeing process. Speaking of dyeing process, we also use natural dyers, such as lavender or tamarind
All in all: staying deeply attached to Cambodian culture
“One destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things” - Henry Miller
Picture: Artisans Angkor’s employees during the opening ceremony of Khmer New Year 2016
This point may be the most important. As much as we want to revitalize Cambodian traditional Arts & Crafts, we want to add value to Cambodian amazing culture. We should not keep Cambodian History and traditions as a simple ‘’background’’ to sell products, but use it as a pillar for everything we want to implement in Cambodia.
Concretely, we love organizing events for important Khmer celebrations, during which all employees are invited to participate. We also contribute to the organization of Cambodian religious celebrations.
If we had to sum-up what being ethical means in one sentence, maybe it would be “remembering that you have a lot to receive from the communities you are interacting with”.