By David South, Development Challenges, South-South Solutions
Few people want to think about death, and many are ill-prepared when it happens to a loved one or friend. But it will happen to us all – and growing ethical and environmental concerns are reshaping the way many deal with the inevitable event. More and more people are seeking a lower-cost option for being disposed of that also does not harm the environment.
There are many ideas out there, but one that is getting attention is using sustainably sourced and fairly traded coffins as a way of reducing carbon emissions resulting from a person’s death.
Bangladeshi pioneers Oasis Coffins (oasiscoffins.com) are crafting ecologically sound, Fair Trade coffins and generating jobs and income for an impoverished region of the country. The coffins are made from locally grown bamboo, seagrass and willow and are a clever piece of design.
Bamboo is as strong as steel and yet flexible, and the coffins made from it look like typical burial boxes – but can be folded back into their footprint to be stored flat. This is a great space-saving innovation and makes it easier to store the coffins and also to ship them to overseas markets. This clever design is reducing the amount of energy used.
Oasis has a manufacturing workshop employing 70 people in the Nilphamari district of Bangladesh (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nilphamari_District), about 400 kilometres north from the capital, Dhaka. The region is poor, but large quantities of bamboo grow in the area.
It is a region where employment is seasonal and erratic, making family life chaotic as parents constantly search for stable work.
Oasis Coffins is located in the Uttara Export Processing Zone (http://www.epzbangladesh.org.bd/bepza.php?id=EPZ-U), run under the authority of the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (BEPZA), a government agency that aims to “promote, attract and facilitate foreign investment in the Export Processing Zones.” Its sales office is based in Birmingham in the United Kingdom.
The company began in 2006 with the idea of creating high-quality products using local materials while creating good quality jobs to achieve a double impact: changed lives and a protected environment. The hope is to create a business model that can be replicated elsewhere.
The company is structured to include both its product development and manufacturing in rural Bangladesh. It took its time conducting market research and product development to make sure it had a product people were willing to buy.
“We make beautiful, high quality products in an environment that gives people reliable employment and good working conditions,” said managing director David How on the company’s website. “Our products are in demand from people who are becoming increasingly conscious of their impact on the environment and others.
“It is encouraging to know that in bereavement, we can give life into people and a community in Bangladesh. We want people to know where their products are coming from, and to know that what they buy can benefit people elsewhere.”
According to its website, Oasis Coffins abides by the standards prescribed by the World Fair Trade Organization (wfto.com) and the European Fair Trade Association (http://www.european-fair-trade-association.org/) and is also a member of ECOTA (ecotaftf.org). The ECOTA Fair Trade Forum started in 1990 and is a networking and coordinating body for small and medium sized Fair Trade Enterprises of Bangladesh.
Employees are divided equally between women and men, and many have never been to school. They are paid 30 per cent more than the recommended rate for garment workers in Bangladesh.
Oasis Coffins know by name the farmers who provide the bamboo and all of it is harvested within 20 kilometres of the manufacturing workshop. Oasis Coffins also takes pride in the construction of the workshop, which features plenty of natural light, good ventilation and easy access in and out. A comfortable workshop is important for the health and happiness of manufacturing workers.
Employees receive a pension scheme, paid holidays, sick leave and a lump-sum payment if they leave. There is also a doctor available during working hours for free medical advice.
To help upgrade the skills of the workers, there are lunchtime literacy classes, and employees are also taught how to manufacture products to a high global standard.
The Oasis coffins are benefiting from the growing marketplace for green funerals in Europe and North America.
In Britain, ecological funerals are on the rise as people seek an affordable and environmentally sound way to be dispatched.
The UK’s Co-operative Funeral Care, part of the Co-operative Group, is selling the Bangladeshi coffins at more than 900 of its funeral homes in the United Kingdom as part of its ethical strategy.
Providing funeral services can be an effective income generator. In Ghana, craftsmen have developed a global reputation for their quirky coffin designs celebrating the lives of the deceased. Ghana is also pioneering the selling of funeral insurance through mobile phones. Bereavement services are among the many basic needs of all communities, no matter where they are located. Just as people will always be born and get sick, they will also eventually die. Providing services that offer dignity to the families and the deceased can be a boost to local economies.
Published: March 2013
1) Ghana coffin pioneer: Paa Joe’s sculpted coffins blur the line between art and craft. Each work is carefully constructed to reflect the ambition or the trade of the person for whom it was made. Website:http://www.jackbellgallery.com/artists/35-Paa-Joe/overview/
2) African funeral insurance providers: “Stanbic Bank launches FuneralPlan insurance product”. Website:http://www.modernghana.com/news/427917/1/stanbic-bank-launches-funeralplan-insurance-produc.html
3) Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 2: Youth and Entrepreneurship. Website:http://www.scribd.com/doc/106055335/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-2-Youth-and-Entrepreneurship
Ghanaian Coffins Prove Design and Craftsmanship Boost Incomes
31 July 2013
Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.
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