New Update: Upon further examination of the activities of the parent organization, and some internal discussion of the history of Worldstock, the suggestion that Worldstock is even "potentially worldchanging" is hereby revoked.
This post will remain up, at least for now, because of the really good and insightful commentary that it provoked. I'm sorry for presenting Worldstock as something worth paying attention to, but I am not sorry to have inadvertantly catalyzed a really good discussion of what it means to be an ethical mediary between developing world artisans and global markets. You folks rock.
Sometimes you find worldchanging efforts in the places you least expect. You may be familiar with Overstock.com, a company that makes a bundle by selling off suppliers' excess inventory. It's not exactly a website that inspires thoughts of sustainable commerce, given that its purpose is essentially to trade on the unsustainable decisions of other companies. But set aside your expectations: Overstock.com has launched a potentially worldchanging sub-brand: Worldstock.
We locate magnificent items made by craftswomen (and craftsmen) around the world. We emphasize sustainability: choosing items that are environmentally sound, and that don’t burn up the natural or human resources of their producers. We pride ourselves on being honest brokers: we don’t gouge producers with our clout, nor consumers with mark-ups, thereby allowing the artisans to receive an average of 60 - 70 percent of the money you spend in Worldstock. Our goal in Worldstock is not to make money, but to create tens of thousands (and someday millions) of jobs in the poorest regions of the world, while bringing customers unique products of which they can be proud – hand-crafted clothing, jewelry, ceramics, furniture, and much more.
The "Worldstock Story" page, written by the company's CEO, goes into more detail about the practices the brand employs, and the principles it espouses. I'm particularly pleased to see that transparency is emphasized as a key method of ensuring that all participants are treated fairly.
You can shop by country (from Afghanistan and Bosnia to South Africa and Thailand) or by product line, including furniture, jewelry and even fair trade coffee from Colombia. It's not a leapfrogging venture, but it does make a connection between local economies in the developing world and the globalized economies of the West -- and appears to do so in a reasonably fair way. Moreover, it's getting some unexpected attention:
Last year, Bob Dukelow, a now-retired senior civilian pentagon intelligence analyst with on the ground experience in Afghanistan, began looking into new strategies to win the GWOT. He heard about an area on Overstock.com called “worldstock” where they sell goods from developing countries like Afghanistan. Bob concluded that Overstock, and companies like it, had a role to play in our counter-terrorism strategy.
“Venues like this create better opportunities for local craftsmen in remote areas to get their products to markets they normally would not reach,” Bob says. “We can pull these craftsmen and their families into the functional core of the world's economy lessening the chance they will fall prey to the rhetoric of fundamentalist terrorist recruiters.”
I'm not sure that handmade knickknacks are the best way to confront the global guerillas, but it certainly couldn't be much less effective than what the West has managed so far...