Thailand: IKEA helps empower women from ethnic hill tribe villages through business partnerships, project hailed as a “model to emulate”

Author: Celestine Bohlen, New York Times, Published on: 24 November 2019

"These Villages in Thailand Are Part of the Global Economy. Go to Ikea to Find Out.", 19 Nov 2019

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...[T]he Doi Tung Development Project... has evolved to become a network of public services, businesses and social enterprises that...sell...ceramics, fabric, mulberry paper and other products to companies around the world.

The results have benefited...roughly 11,000 people...in Chiang Rai Province, in particular women and members of the region's three main tribal groups, many of whom were once marginalized migrants from neighboring Myanmar.

This region along the Thailand-Myanmar border was once...a global hub for opium...[W]omen worked at home, often raising cash crops...

The Doi Tung project, endorsed by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes as a successful approach to fighting drugs, has given local people crucial sources of alternative income...

[It] was hailed as a "model to emulate" by... the United Nations Development Program. It focused on progress toward reaching development goals by 2030, one aim of which is the creation of inclusive economic opportunities, in this case for members of the migrant tribes and women.

At a time when international corporations look to project images of social responsibility, projects like Doi Tung are picking up clients seeking more than the usual matchup of quality and price. That is one reason major companies — including Ikea, Japan Airlines and the Japanese retailer Muji — are buying Doi Tung products and produce.

Six years ago, Ikea...entered into a partnership with Doi Tung, which produced ceramics, tableware and mulberry paper sold in the limited-edition collections Annanstans and Hantverk...

Ikea had entered into an earlier relationship with the Doi Tung weaving factory... with seven female weavers, drawing on traditional skills and tribal models. The factory was able to open up markets beyond the women's villages, and in 2007, Ikea stepped in to provide training and quality control. Today... the two factories have 125 workers — and one of the largest collections of hand looms in Southeast Asia — making traditional fabrics for local and global brands and designers.

[T]he Doi Tung model has succeeded in empowering women...25 of the project's 54 managers are women, a high ratio for rural Asia...

...[P]er capita income in the region had increased sixfold from 1988 to 2016, and income inequality had been cut by two-thirds.

Most important...it has moved the community from survival mode to self-sustainability...

For Ikea, Doi Tung’s success is part of its marketing. “We want to share the stories from our partners, raising awareness about the great work they do, creating jobs for marginalized people,” Ms. Misra said.

Read the full post here

Related companies: IKEA Japan Airlines MUJI