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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 26, 2006

World Bank will sell arts, crafts to shine its image

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post

WASHINGTON The World Bank is planning to open a store this spring that will sell crafts from developing countries to help promote socially responsible trade and help burnish its image in response to critics who say the agency does exactly the opposite.

The store, Pangea Artisan Market and Cafe, is to be in the downtown Washington headquarters of International Finance Corp., the branch of the World Bank that is overseeing the project. It will sell a range of handmade merchandise such as banana-leaf handbags from Indonesia and silk pillowcases from Cambodia.

The small businesses whose products are to be sold will be required to adhere to ethical practices, such as prohibiting child labor, and to submit to yearly inspections by the IFC, said Harold Rosen, director of the project and the IFC's Grassroots Business Initiative. The store plans to hold workshops on emerging markets and global economic issues.

The move is the latest in an ongoing effort by the bank to bolster its reputation. The World Bank has become a favorite target of protesters who criticize its free-market policies and philosophy of globalization. Pangea is intended to help dispel the notion that "everything in globalization must be bad for poor people," Rosen said.

"We want to show that doesn't have to be the case," he said.

The bank's critics say the agency too often hurts the poor in developing countries by insisting on painful austerity policies, such as eliminating government benefits and subsidies, in exchange for loans. They complain the bank also demands that developing countries adopt policies that benefit multinational companies rather than people in poverty.

Rosen said he plans to meet next month with several groups that have been critical of the World Bank's policies, including anti-poverty group Oxfam International, to talk about the Pangea project. Pangea is an allusion to a more-connected Earth, referring to the enormous land mass scientists theorize existed before continents split apart.

The store is finding merchandise through Novica, which sells handmade global crafts and is affiliated with National Geographic and the nonprofit group Aid to Artisans. Suppliers must sign a commitment to produce goods without child labor or forced labor, unsafe and unhealthy working conditions, and serious environmental harm, among other provisions. The IFC plans to monitor their practices, help them make needed changes and invest in the businesses, Rosen said.

At the 3,800-square-foot Pangea store, displays will be designed to showcase not only the crafts but also the people who make them. For example, silk purses from Cambodia are sewn by women who had been rescued from sexual slavery and often drug addiction by the Swiss nonprofit Hagar. Elephant grass placemats come through a group called Gone Rural that works with HIV-positive women in Swaziland who have little or no access to medical care. The Superchango chocolate bars are made with a Bolivian grain called canawa, grown by farmers in lieu of coca, a shrub used to make cocaine.

Rosen said the main goal will be to help countries develop infrastructure and businesses with long-term potential.

World Craft & Co. will manage Pangea's retail operations. Owner Sunil Shrestha, a Nepalese immigrant, said he has worked with several of the producers to ensure their products are marketable in the United States. For example, he asked handbag makers in Indonesia to include pockets for cell phones and requested photo albums from Cambodia be designed for 4-by-6-inch prints, rather than 3-by-5-inch prints. Most of the merchandise will be priced from $25 to $100.

"Since we are from those regions," Shrestha said, "we really want to help those people."

The project has been two years in the planning, Rosen said. A tentative opening date has been set for mid-May. Rosen said he hopes Pangea will help spark "intellectual buzz" about global economics. "I've always had the dream that we could open it up a bit and do something that would enliven the community," he said.