Category Archives: Latin America

Empowering Women through Entrepreneurship: A Conversation with Amanda Judge

Amanda Judge

Amanda Judge is the founder and CEO of Faire Collection, a fair trade accessories brand that brings economic stability to more than 200 rural artisans in Ecuador and Vietnam. In the seven years since its founding, Faire Collection has grown from just $10,000 in start-up capital to well over $1 million in sales revenue and is committed to providing its artisans with dignified wages and holistic social programs that provide a path out of poverty. She is the recipient of the 2015 Fletcher Women’s Leadership Award. Judge holds a MALD from the Fletcher School and a degree in finance from Santa Clara University.

The Fletcher Forum staff sat down with Amanda Judge to discuss Faire Collection, the challenges of creating a fair trade business, and opportunities for women’s empowerment.


FLETCHER FORUM: The idea for Faire Collection grew out of interviews you conducted with Ecuadorian women about poverty reduction strategies for your Fletcher thesis. What made you focus on women?

JUDGE: It was actually a bit accidental. The thesis wasn’t supposed to be about women specifically, but about what poverty reduction strategies would work in rural communities. The men were working in carpentry and other industries, while the women’s income stream was mainly from artisan work. Since I had been making jewelry from a young age, I felt this was an area in which I could provide advice, and what I found was striking. The artisans were actually losing money on some of the products they were making, and they didn’t realize it. So I thought—“ you need to do something about this”—and that’s why I ended up focusing on the women in the household.

FLETCHER FORUM: What kind of changes have you noticed beyond income with the female artisans you’ve worked with?

JUDGE: Many of the women have become more visible members of their communities. One woman has gone from being very shy and soft-spoken to being a leading member of her PTA. Her children’s schoolwork was something that she had never been involved in before, but she became an influential voice in the community. Another artisan has become the president of her local neighborhood committee. Two years after starting to work with us, these women have found the strength to move forward in their lives in different ways.

FLETCHER FORUM: How has Faire Collection affected power structures in the communities and within the families it works with? Has there been any pushback from husbands or other people in positions of power, and if so, how have you dealt with this?

JUDGE: There have been some pretty significant shifts in the power structures in the families of the women artisans, particularly for those who have worked with us from the beginning. The women become viewed as more important than they were before. The husbands see the good working relationship that my team members and I have with their wives, and they definitely recognize the value their wives are bringing in.

There are, however, cases where the women face pushback. We’ll have an employee who’s getting married, and her husband will say that she can’t work with us anymore because now she has a husband to take care of her. So the husband will often try to talk her out of going to work, and if she’s going to school, talk her out of going to school too. In that case, it’s been interesting to see how the lead artisans, who were the first core group of female artisans that I started working with, have served as mentors to these younger women. They’ll talk to them and say, “Listen, you don’t have to stop working just because you’re getting married. Your life doesn’t have to end, or even change dramatically. You can still continue your work and your studies.” We’ve even had one of the lead artisans say to another, “If you’re trying to get married just to get out of your house, come live with me.” These women have really helped each other.

FLETCHER FORUM: As a fair trade business with a social mission with a triple bottom line, what challenges have you experienced in balancing your three pillars as you’ve grown so quickly, and how have you managed to stick to your core values?

JUDGE: It’s important to set out which values trump the others. You can’t say that they’re all equal, because there are times when you’re forced to make the hard decisions. For us, the main goal on the social side has always been creating employment and poverty reduction. Secondarily, being a green company and operating sustainably.

Beyond that, profitability is necessary to keep the business alive. One of the guidelines that we have is that profitability needs to be a priority, but if you can do some kind of social good and it lowers your profitability, that doesn’t harm or endanger the financial health of the company, that’s something we consider doing. But if it’s a social good that will really endanger the financial health of your company, we don’t consider doing that. In practice, these principles become more flexible, but it’s good to have something to come back to.

FLETCHER FORUM: Given your success in building a social enterprise, what knowledge or advice would you share with students at Fletcher or young professionals who are aspiring entrepreneurs?

JUDGE: If people are interested in the world of social enterprise, there are a lot more resources available—networking groups, mentors—that weren’t around when I started the company, when the term ‘social enterprise’ was barely around. Maximizing those resources can be very helpful.

On the other side, make sure that this is a path that you really want to go down because it’s going to take a lot of energy on your part to make it happen. If it’s the right thing for you, then it’s going to be the best thing you’ve ever done. There are easier career paths that you can go down, but if you’re meant to be an entrepreneur, none of those other ones are going to feel right. Make sure to put energy into that decision. Volunteer, do internships, work with a really small company to get that startup feel. Make sure that it’s something you’re really committed to, because if you’re going to commit to it, you need to commit 300% to make it work.

Foreign Policy in the Time of Cholera

HaitiThe ongoing cholera epidemic in Haiti is a disaster. Introduced into Haiti through the shocking negligence of the United Nations, the disease has resulted in over 8,500 deaths since October 2010. The UN has not only failed to remedy the damage, it has not even apologized for the harm it has caused. As a result, Haitian and Haitian-American victims initiated legal action against the UN in U.S. court in October 2013. Caught between support for the principle of the UN’s legal immunity and recognition of the victims’ rights to access justice are longstanding American foreign policy goals of enhancing political stability and promoting the rule of law in Haiti. One year after the lawsuit was filed, this tension came to a head on October 23, when oral arguments by the U.S. government in support of UN immunity, and the Haitian plaintiffs in favor of UN accountability, were heard in Federal Court.

Despite overwhelming evidence that reckless waste disposal on a UN peacekeeping base sparked the epidemic, the UN has repeatedly rebuffed requests for remedies. In violation of its treaty obligations, the UN has also refused to establish a claims commission to hear and settle victims’ claims outside of court, thereby failing to fulfill key duties counterbalancing its right to immunity in domestic courts. Maintaining the position that it need not respond to domestic lawsuits, the UN requested that the U.S. intervene in its stead. The U.S. acquiesced by filing a court brief that supports the total immunity of the UN and advocates for the dismissal of the case. In so doing, it has missed a critical opportunity to further its stated foreign policy goals.

No matter the outcome of the hearing, the government’s choice to intervene does not support U.S. policy aims for three reasons. First, the government’s actions have direct repercussions for those plaintiffs who are American citizens, and whose constitutionally protected right of access to courts is threatened. It is unclear what benefits justify a wholesale denial of this fundamental right.

Second, blocking judicial remedies further prolongs the effects of the epidemic itself. UN press releases trumpeting anti-cholera initiatives are not supported with anywhere near the $2.2 billion needed to eradicate cholera in Haiti—current funding is at 10%. Meanwhile, the UN continues to invest $500 million per year in MINUSTAH, the peacekeeping mission in Haiti, even though the country has not had a war in decades, and has one of the lowest homicide rates in the region.

Finally, the U.S. government’s position is at cross-purposes with its interests in promoting human rights and the rule of law at home and abroad. Victims only took legal action because the UN ignored its legal and moral obligations. The UN’s insistence on holding itself above the law damages its credibility and effectiveness as a promoter of human rights and the rule of law in Haiti and worldwide. By offering unqualified support for UN impunity, the U.S. similarly harms its own credibility in promoting these goals.

The counterproductive nature of the U.S.’s approach is summarized succinctly in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry on behalf of the 24,000 members of the New York City Bar Association, stating that “[i]t is in the legal and foreign policy interests of the United States to promote the rule of law, international law and compliance with international treaty obligations, including by the UN itself.” Prominent members of the UN, U.S. Congress, and the National Haitian American Elected Officials Network have voiced similar concerns. Two additional lawsuits were filed against the UN in March, making it clear that the UN cannot solve this by sweeping it under the rug. It is time for the U.S. to properly account for these concerns in its own decisions.

The necessity of having sufficient legal immunity to prevent undue interference with UN operations was understood at the time the organization was founded, when such a provision was included in the UN Charter. It was also clear, however, that such immunities should be granted only “as are necessary for the fulfillment of its purposes.” At the core of these purposes are the principles of justice and international law, and promoting and encouraging respect for human rights. The U.S. may have sound reasons to support the broader principle of immunity, but such support must be balanced so the scales of justice do not tip into impunity.

To further rule of law in Haiti and around the world, it is imperative that the U.S. complement its support for UN immunity with a forceful public statement reminding the UN of its legal obligation to establish a claims procedure where victims’ claims can be heard impartially. Such action would make a clear statement to the UN, and to the world, that privilege must always be balanced with responsibility.

The Venezuelan Paradox


At 3:00 a.m. on May 8, 2014, Venezuelan government troops abruptly arrived at camps in Caracas to evict students who were peacefully assembled to protest against the oppressive policies of the Venezuelan regime. Security forces arbitrarily arrested hundreds of undergraduates and detained them on military bases. Actions such as this are evidence of the Venezuelan government’s large-scale plan to detain students and silence political opposition. Not only has the government systematically violated the human rights of opposition leaders, but breaches also include abuses against detainees and the decision to withdraw from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which left Venezuelans without its protection. Although the government continues to repress its citizens, the country is currently seeking a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council. Abuses such as the May 8 arrests underscore Venezuela’s lack of compliance with international law and constitute behavior that should bar Venezuela from a UN Security Council seat.

Even while the Venezuelan government seeks a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it actually criminalizes the right of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression. These rights are protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Venezuela ratified in 1978. Yet, the government consistently silences and violates the rights of opposition leaders. Notably, Leopoldo Lopez, the National Coordinator of Popular Will, which is one of the Venezuelan opposition political parties, is on trial for inciting violence by encouraging street protesters against President Maduro in 2014. Lopez was targeted by the government after he demanded a complete investigation of the government’s role in more than forty-five human rights violations cases that occurred during February 2014 demonstrations, which brought thousands of Venezuelans to protest against the government’s failure to manage rising crime and a scarcity of essential goods and services. Similarly, on March 19, the government arrested Daniel Ceballos, who is the Mayor of San Cristóbal, a city located in a state bordering on Colombia. Authorities announced on TV that Mayor Ceballos was detained “on charges of ‘civil rebellion’ and ‘conspiracy.’” There is also the case of Sairam Rivas, a twenty-one-year-old student of the Central University of Venezuela, who also marched to protest against the government and called upon students to join her and “her protest.” On May 8, Rivas became the youngest political prisoner of the regime and a “trophy of the dictatorship.” These cases show unequivocally that dissent is being criminalized in Venezuela.

In addition to arresting opposition leaders, human rights abuses in detention facilities are rampant. El Helicoide, which is a detention facility and the headquarters of the Venezuelan Intelligence Services, has housed more than forty-six political detainees over the past decade and is one site where the most violations are perpetrated. Violations include the sunlight deprivation policy, which can cause serious diseases such as osteoporosis. Iván Simonovis, a political prisoner arrested in 2004 under President Chavez and victim of the sunlight deprivation policy, was held at El Helicoide for nine years. He developed “severe osteoporosis, particularly on his spine and femur, with a significant risk of fracture.” Sairam Rivas is another victim of the sunlight deprivation policy at El Helicoide, in addition to suffering many threats against her personal integrity. The facility has become the main theater for Venezuelan security forces to perpetrate abuses against political detainees.

The case of Raúl José Díaz Peña, a college student detained at El Helicoide under the Chavez era who was subjected to constant torture by Venezuelan security forces, highlights not only the Venezuelan governments policy of abuse, but also the importance of international courts as an outlet for victims. The case of Díaz Peña was brought to the attention of the Inter-American System of Human Rights, leading to a hearing with The Inter-American Court of Human Rights. In 2012, the Court found Venezuela responsible for violating the rights of Díaz Peña protected by the American Convention on Human Rights, which Venezuela had ratified in 1977. The Court ordered Venezuela to adopt measures to improve the conditions at El Helicoide, which have been abusive and dangerous toward detainees for years. Nevertheless, the government did not respect the judgment of the Court, and, instead, withdrew from it. Withdrawing from the Court left Venezuelans without legal protections or a forum within the Inter-American System of Human Rights to which they can bring human rights cases when the domestic remedies prove futile.

The UN must take Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights into account when considering Venezuela for a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. The above-mentioned human rights abuses committed by the Venezuelan government against students and members of the political opposition contravene the spirit and the letter of the UN Charter. What is more, Venezuela has violated parts of the UN human rights system to which it is a signatory, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol. If Venezuela secures the two-thirds majority of votes at the UN General Assembly in October to win a Security Council seat, the UN human rights system as whole will be weakened. As Venezuela spends millions of its petrodollars to secure votes amongst UN members, its government continues repressing domestic political opposition. This is the Venezuelan paradox that the UN General Assembly can avert in the upcoming days.

Work Force Development Is Necessary for Reintegrating the FARC in Colombia


Ever since Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) announced they would start negotiating a peace agreement, the Colombian public has been skeptical. These doubts are not completely unfounded—past attempts at negotiations failed several times, and if history serves as a guide, there is nothing to indicate that this time will be any different. However, should the two sides finally reach an agreement, it will be critical for the Colombian government to ensure that thousands of militarized young men are successfully integrated into the workplace and society.

Earlier attempts at demobilization and reintegration of other groups have fallen short. In 2006, several paramilitary groups agreed to lay down their weapons. These paramilitary groups were initially formed by wealthy ranch owners in the state of Antioquia to counteract the influence of the FARC in that region. Eventually, the paramilitary groups grew into larger armies, and at one time the largest of the paramilitary groups, the United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), had nearly 20,000 members present across ten states throughout Colombia. The AUC committed several human rights violations, ranging from kidnapping, extortion, torture, rape, intimidation and massacres. They also became heavily involved in narcotics trafficking, which generated tens of millions of dollars in annual profits for the group between 1997 and 2004.

It was under this backdrop that the Colombian Government, then led by a right wing president, decided to negotiate the demobilization of the AUC in 2004. The Colombian government and the AUC agreed to demobilize their forces over a two-year period, and while the leadership of the AUC laid down its weapons, lower-level foot soldiers simply formed smaller criminal gangs referred to as Bacrims (bandas criminal). These criminal gangs currently contain between 25 to several hundred members and exert control over smaller areas throughout Colombia. They continue to be responsible for extortion, narcotics trafficking, illegal mining and land grabbing from poor farmers.  It is estimated that these criminal gangs now exert influence in more than 40 percent of Colombia and have become as big of a problem as the larger guerrilla groups.

This past experience illustrates that any demobilization agreed to by the leaders of the FARC secretariat will need to include a mechanism that provides employment for the lower level FARC members to prevent history from repeating itself. Even if the FARC leadership agrees to a peace deal, this does not mean that the commanders in the lower level Blocs and Fronts, which form the second level of command in the FARC chain of command, will agree to give up their revenue streams that are largely derived from illegal ventures. Estimated profits from these activities result in $500 million in revenues annually.

One solution the government can pursue is to provide job training in high-demand sectors, such as in customer service, manufacturing or construction. These jobs will probably pay better than what the majority of foot soldiers were receiving while in the service of the FARC. Furthermore, these young men, many of whom are under the age of 21, will not be subject to the stress of constantly worrying about their own safety.

Workforce development must be included in a larger, comprehensive solution to reintegrate members of the FARC. The fact remains that without a mechanism for providing former combatants opportunities to become productive members of their communities, Colombia will find itself with a weak and hollow peace agreement. Workforce development is not just a way to build the peace, but is also needed to sustain it.