Cabalan Wicker Basket Producers

Caesar de La Cruz, 27, worked at many different jobs since he was a teenager. These were menial jobs, temporary in nature, and could never support him in a decent life. He lived a life of deprivation with little hope for the future in a Philippine economy sinking in a sea of unemployment. Where islands of glittering and sumptuous wealth floated on the polluted waters of poverty and want.

  • Location: Olongapo City, Zambales Central Luzon Region
  • Type of busines: Grass-root family led project
  • Products: Wicker Baskets
  • Number of workers: 8
  • Male/Female: 4/4

The one thing that he was good at was weaving the long strings of natural wicker into baskets of all shapes and designs. It was an old man in his native village that taught Caesar the skills and he never forgot them.

When baskets became popular in the world market, he heard that there was factory work for basket weavers in the capital – Manila. This was in a huge warehouse where dozens of young people men and women sat around on short stools and bent and twisted and wrapped the fibers into various baskets with an amazing skill that was creative and delightful to the observer but had become monotonous and routine to the weavers.


Factory life was dull, hard and low paid. They worked long hours and were considered as casual workers. They did not get any holidays, were paid not by the hours they worked but by the numbers of products they completed. There was no social security payments made on their behalf, as normal workers would get.

Their pay was frequently delayed for weeks and they had to borrow money at high interest rates to buy food and pay for their lodging. There was no one to complaint to and if they did tell anyone they were fired. Caesar could not endure it, so one day he walked away leaving behind the unpaid wages he was owed.

He went home to Olongapo City and there with his brother set up a small weaving project under the shade of a great mango tree. Together they raised some chickens, planted vegetables and sold the mangos when during the season.

Caesar borrowed money to buy the raw materials for the baskets and then brought the finished baskets to the market to try and sell them. They were of excellent craftsmanship. Some of them were dyed with natural vegetable-based colors. He stood on the roadside offering them to the passing tourists but could not get a fair price. Some tourists told him they could buy then for half the price elsewhere. They were factory leftovers, made in the sweatshop for low wages.


Then one day he came to the Preda Center and offered samples of the baskets. He had heard that Preda was helping small producers to produce fine products in many villages throughout the Philippines and was helping to find customers that paid just and fair prices and who appreciated the fine and skillful quality of the baskets.

At the Preda Fair Trade Center Caesar was welcomed and he told the story of his life and his problems. Soon the Preda product manager was encouraging Caesar and his brother to make some more samples and they were well paid for them.

At the Preda Fair Trade Center Caesar was welcomed and he told the story of his life and his problems. Soon the Preda product manager was encouraging Caesar and his brother to make some more samples and they were well paid for them. Preda advanced the cost of the materials and gave an advanced interest free loan for raw materials. The samples were sent to the markets of the alternative Fair Trading Organizations in Europe and the United States and soon orders for these fine baskets came in.

Cases then began to organize his friends and neighbors that lived in small bamboo huts on the hillside outside the city and a producer group came together. Their lives were transformed from daily hardship, hunger and want to a prosperous thriving village where many families were weaving baskets and earning good money. There was money for clothes, food and schooling. The children stopped going to the city streets begging from the tourists and endangering themselves. They were getting an education.


After two years of production, Caesar was able to build a better house for his family and it became the center of production and storage of the finished baskets. There was shelter for the raw material and the finished products safe from the rain and storms until Preda sent a truck to collect them and bring them to the warehouse to be finished and packed and then shipped to waiting customers.

The neighbors prospered too and improved their homes and the lives had a new dignity and happiness. They worked together to dig a community well for a clean water supply, cared for their surrounding and build, with the help of Preda, as strong foot bridge across a stream that became a raging torrent of water in the rainy season. Life was good for many years.


However in recent years the European and United States were flooded with cheap baskets from Mainland China, some made with sweatshop and even prison labor and orders for Caesar’s baskets dropped. The community suffered and could compete with the Chinese baskets. There have been hard times for the community at Cabalan and they are hoping that one day customers in Europe and the United States will choose a Fair traded basket over baskets made with exploited or prison labor. The popularity of their products will come again and they can get many orders and Fair Prices once again.


The Fair Trade creates prosperity because of the fair wages, production loans and the other socioeconomic and educational assistance provided by PREDA. These projects, like that of Caesar, are helping people to help themselves. But there is one necessity and that is to have a good strong market. Globalization is hurting small producer groups like the Cabalan Basket makers. The uncontrolled dumping of products for the North at lower prices often imported below cost price drive local industries out of business and floods the country with unemployed. Then with so many seeking jobs, wages fall to starvation levels.

Even low cost baskets and handicrafts are imported from China where they are produced with low wages or in prison camps and drive the Philippine producers out of business. Globalization does not work well for the poor of the south and we see great poverty spreading as the economies of the North continue to enjoy boom times.