Category Archives: Fair Trade

Creative Supply Chain Transparency

Social Business Network and Ético bring actors together from every link of the supply chain to build mutual understanding and drive innovation and social change. An integral aspect of this work is good communication, often involving translation, deep levels of cultural understanding, and use of clear images. A high dose of creativity helps of course! Here is a beautiful example of how Social Business Network partner Thanksgiving Coffee uses imagery to educate their consumers about the many production stages in their coffee supply chain:

Coffee: from farm to cup – poster designed by Sven Sandberg Studio

Coffee: from farm to cup – poster designed by Sven Sandberg Studio. Click the image to read Thanksgiving’s blog post about this project!

 

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Moving Upstream: Why Farmers Need to Gain Control over their Inputs

This post is adapted from the blog of Social Business Network’s Communication and Sustainability Director, Rachel Lindsay.  The original post can be seen at Sustainable Farming in Nicaragua.

The ground is fertile for new sustainable agricultural markets, pun intended.  Not only is there  growing consumer awareness and expanding markets for organic and sustainably grown products, but a recent estimate places a $4.5 billion value on the “green agricultural technologies” market over the next decade, including improvements in available biopesticides and organic non-petroleum based fertilizers.  Which is great, except that with harsher climate extremes and increasing intensity of pests and diseases, it is unclear whether this investment will result in increased production yields or simply be necessary to maintain the current level of production.  And of course, this doesn’t mean $4.5 billion for farmers – unless farmers come together to invest in the development and creation of their own amendments.  The infrastructure within the agricultural cooperative movement should give farmer cooperatives an advantage in centrally producing economical and ecological inputs for their member farmers, retaining some of the value of this growing industry in the hands of small farmers.   Since it is in the best interest of farmers to have ownership over the quality and source of available amendments, supply chains should come together to create policy and promote business models that give farmers a stake in the upstream agricultural supply markets.

UNCTADThe recent United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Trade and Environment Review 2013 is entitled “Wake Up Before It Is Too Late” and stresses the need for transformations in our food systems that strengthen farmers’ ability to employ ecological practices that increase the stability and health of agriculture and the environment.  The report, compiled by over 60 experts in the field, lists as one of its key points the need to recognize farmers as more than just producers.  Farmers are managers of agro-ecosystems that impact public goods and services including water, soil, land use, energy, biodiversity and recreation.  When we recognize them as managers with influence in several areas of long-term impact, the resources that we make available to them and the role they play in trade relationships and business takes on greater importance.  In one section entitled “Democratizing the Role of Agriculture to Meet the Needs of the 21st Century,” the report outlines the effects of the consolidation of corporate interests in agriculture – from monopolization of upstream markets including seeds, pesticides and fertilizers, to lobbying and influencing trade and farm policies that protect corporate interests and rights over the rights of farmers.  Although as stewards of the land farmers have the potential to greatly impact carbon sequestration, erosion, local food systems and energy production, the consolidation of corporate interests effectively prioritize profit margins on fertilizers, seeds, and retail over supporting good farm management and profitability.  As the graph below from the Canadian Department of Agriculture shows, the price of fertilizers is directly linked to the rising cost of fuel, diminishing profit margins for farmers.

From 1999 the gap between the cost of fuel and cost of crops on the market has widened at an increasing rate, reducing profitability margins for farmers.

From 1999 the gap between the cost of fuel and cost of crops on the market has widened at an increasing rate, reducing profitability margins for farmers.

The UNCTAD report suggests a variety of concrete actions that should be relevant especially within fair trade and alternative supply chains.  There are examples of farmer groups who have made investments in the production of fertilizers and seeds.  I have previously written about SOPPEXCCA’s fertilizer plant as a model coffee cooperative’s initiative to take into their own hands the lack of effective organic certified fertilizers on the market.  Because the farmers themselves have a stake in the fertilizer production, the quality of the finished product, and the profitability of the coffee production, the investment includes annual tests and improvements in the composition of the fertilizer they make, effectively lowering the cost of the fertilizer for farmers rather than raising it.  The Juan Francisco Paz Silva  (JFPS) cooperative produces bio-fertilizers inoculated with mycorrhiza and beneficial micro-organisms for their member farmers and maintains a demonstration plot to continually test and experiment with improved formulas.

A range of fertilizers produced by the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua

A range of fertilizers produced by the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua

Other examples of farmer groups taking a pro-active stance to protect available cost-effective quality inputs for farmers that are not controlled by  are seed savers groups and seed banks.  The difference between farmer-driven and corporate-driven amendments is simple – farmers have a vested interest in the effectiveness and quality of the product, as well as in their affordability and long-term ecological impact.  Corporations only have a vested interest in the first. As the examples of SOPPEXCCA and JFPS show, farmer cooperatives have the infrastructure to produce and monitor amendments.  In both case however, additional support would allow them to scale up their production and explore new formulas to continually improve the quality and availability of these products.  Actors within supply chains should come together to invest in the local development and production of upstream agricultural inputs.  To ensure the sustainable futures of our supply chains, we should heed the advice of UCTAD and support farmer groups in gaining ownership over their sources of inputs like fertilizers, amendments, and seeds.

What other innovative farmer-initiated production models or policies are currently working to shift upstream market control, productivity and profitability into the hands of farmers?

Ético: An Alternative Trading Company

In this guest blog Social Business Network/Ético intern Nora Burkey applies the frameworks outlined in a classic text used in many business and development schools to form an analysis of Ético’s business model: 

In their newly revised book “Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership,” Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal maintain that people live their day-to-day lives as parts of many complex organizations, from schools to sports teams, from families to the working world, and more.  Cooperativization in Nicaragua is a very clear example of how people commit to organizations, and likewise Ético: The Ethical Trading Company provides another example of organization in the workplace, as it is a company 100 percent owned by organizations who work together.  As a very innovative company that at its core is promoting a fairer model for international trade, how can Ético show that managing so many organizations and interests is not only possible, it is better?

As the United States has ruled that corporations may be considered people, at least symbolically, perhaps it is not so strange to consider Bolman and Deal’s point that companies or organizations need ethics, or a soul, to survive.  They need a sense of identity.  Bolman and Deal write,

Many would scoff at the notion that organizations can have soul, but there is growing evidence that it is a critical element in long-run success.  A dictionary definition of soul uses terms such as “animating force,” “immaterial essence,” and “spiritual nature.”  For an organization, group, or family, soul can be viewed as a bedrock sense of identity, a deep confidence about who we are, what we care about, and what we deeply believe in….Growing evidence suggests that tapping a deeper level of human energy pays off (p. 396).

Quite possibly it is the very soul of Ético that makes it function so well.  Ethics, and giving voice to more people within an organization is not only moral, it is equally if not more efficient than power concentrated in the hands of one leader or one owner.

In their book, Bolman and Deal present four frames with which to look at and understand organizations.  Their purpose in doing so is to help organizations better manage themselves, as “modern mythology promises organizations will work splendidly if well managed,” (p. 8).  Although, they say, there exists book after book on how best to manage a company or organization, very few people understand the importance of joining solutions together and understanding organizations through many different lenses.  This is critical, as organizations are made up of individuals who all see differently.  Viewing Ético and the cooperatives they work with in light of the four frames outlined by Bolman and Deal gives a better sense of their function, mission, and effectiveness.

The structural frame emphasizes goals and roles for a unified strategy that produces output. The workplace can be viewed as a factory, whereby “the ethical imperative of the factory is excellence: ensuring work is done as well and as efficiently as possible to ensure high-quality output” (p. 400).  There are many examples of high-quality, unique and individual output in the work of the cooperatives and Ético.  The Body Shop (TBS) buys quality sesame oil from one of Ético’s shareholding cooperatives, Juan Francisco Paz Silva (JFPS).  When the price of sesame rose in 2008, The Body Shop and the JFPS Coop renegotiated what the new price was going to mean, and in doing so authored the unique “Recognition of the Unpaid Work of Women.”  As an additional example, cooperative members have created their own unique products, from sesame candy to hibiscus wine, all of it at a level of quality that both The Body Shop and small farming communities can be proud of.

In the human resources frame, the organization can be viewed as a family.  Bolman and Deal write,

Caring—one person’s compassion and concern for another—is both the purpose and the ethical glue that holds a family together….A caring family or community requires servant leaders who serve the best interests of its members and stakeholders.  This implies a profound and challenging responsibility for leaders to understand the needs and concerns of community members so as to serve the best interests of individuals and the community as a whole.  The gift of the servant leader is love” (p. 402).

Both authors acknowledge that it seems strange to talk about love in terms of organizations, but maintain that a successful leader of an organization is truly a servant, and serves out of self-less love for the family or organization.  The very structure of Ético relies on servant leadership.  Historically, The Body Shop had been buying from the JFPS Cooperative before Ético existed.  In fact, Ético was born when L’oreal bought The Body Shop to preserve the direct relationship between the JFPS Cooperative and the renowned cosmetics line.  What this demonstrates is that Ético was born out of service to the cooperative when the farmers needed a new type of leadership to be able to continue working with a large multinational company.

In the political frame, the workplace can be seen as a jungle where there is a constant battle and the routine seeking-out of self-interested gains.  “In a world of competing interests and scarce resources, we are continually compelled to make trade-offs.  We cannot give everyone everything they want, but we can honor a value of fairness in making decisions about who gets what” (p. 403).  Bolman and Deal maintain that leaders can ensure this type of justice in the workplace by putting power in the hands of employees.  “People with a voice in key decisions are far more likely to feel a sense of justice than those with no seat at the table” (p. 403).  In the cooperative model, members gets one vote no matter how much land or money they have, and no matter how much they supply to the cooperative.  By working with cooperatives, Ético ensures that it works with the most marginalized groups, the smallest of farmers, giving them as much as say as those better off, creating a sense of justice in being a cooperative member.

Finally, in the symbolic frame , “An organization, like a temple, can be seen as a sacred place, an expression of human aspirations, and monument to faith in human possibility.  A temple is gathering place for a community of people with shared traditions, values, and beliefs” (p. 405).  Above all, workers must feel that the organization is doing something worth doing, that there is some significance to their work.  As the founder of Ético has been with the cooperatives from the beginning, instrumental in their creation, Ético is an outgrowth of the existing family.  Together, that family has many traditions.  For example, each year the cooperatives and Ético share traditions, such as putting on an annual music festival, and so far these traditions have not been broken.  There is a very real sense of community, and based on conversations with cooperative members, there is the belief that the cooperatives, as well as Ético, are there to help.  The cooperatives believe in what they do and therefore members believe in them too.

Source: Bolman, L. G. & Deal, T. E. (2003).  Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership.  San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Nora Burkey is currently a candidate at SIT Graduate Institute for a Master’s in Sustainable Development.  She became involved with Social Business Network in August 2013 after connecting with Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, a trading partner of ÉTICO.  She currently lives in León, Nicaragua, and plans to continue working with Dean’s Beans and Social Business Network on development projects into 2014.

Reclaiming Fair Trade – A Reflection

Presenting our first guest blog by Nora Burkey, who Social Business Network has the honor of hosting for her Master’s research in Sustainable Development: 

While fair trade enthusiasts are quickly dropping their affiliations with certifying bodies, explaining it is because they are still committed to original standards whereas new members are not, the confused reader, inundated with information about poor farmers just getting poorer—fair trade or not—might wonder why fair trade ought to be defended at all.  Remember that income accounting does not create the whole picture.  Fair trade has contributed to increased access to credit at lower interest rates, more childhood education, a greater degree of food-security, and more.  Fair trade premiums to cooperatives also benefit farming communities as a whole, such as greater access to healthcare for the whole village.  But fair trade wasn’t just about poverty, it was about revolution, and its successes and failures ought to be looked at in that light.

Fair Trade offered the cooperative structure as a solution to privately-owned farms that have an unfair system of wage labor.  This allows farmers ownership of their land, not just their labor, and provides a democratically governed body to oversee social projects and communicate with buyers without being owned by them, leaving decision-making with the farmer.  So when large coffee plantations can become certified as fair trade, as Fair Trade USA recently decided to allow—breaking off from Fair Trade International in order to do so—what we have is a private system that has nothing to do with what fair trade ever meant to imply, and what fair trade ends up meaning is something like minimum wage with a social premium benefit.  And whereas before 20% of a product had to be fair trade to receive the label, now just a mere 10% is required by Fair Trade USA, so it’s not even minimum wage for all.

Under current standards, to sell fair-trade certified products, only 5% of a company’s sales must be fair trade, and there is no obligation to increase this percentage over time.  Nor are large producers required to slowly become more cooperative in structure by giving each farmer a vote and ownership over their own production.  The presence of large multinationals and large plantations at the table only limits a small farmer’s access to the market and ensures the largest piece of the pie goes to the largest producer or buyer.

The most damaging of all is that the weakening of standards has forced the founders of fair trade out.  No longer do the truly committed want to be associated with the term they created, as to many consumers, it denotes something so tame the only impact it makes is a bad one.  It seems anyone can create their own label these days and certify it independently, allies and enemies alike.  Some have stricter standards and some have weaker, but if consumers are not educated, it is impossible to know which label is which.  And since fair trade depends on consumers rather than the state to ensure it continues to be a part of commerce—it only exists as long as people are willing to buy fair trade products—creating so many labels, and so much confusion, is a lot like playing with fire.

The struggle is whether to reclaim the name that has been co-opted or admit that it’s already been stolen.  In my own life I choose to reclaim it, because I believe it is important that people understand fair trade was and is not a failure, it can only be failed.  I choose not to be someone that fails it, to be someone who fails to support all that fair trade has done.  The commitment still feels pretty radical to me, in all senses of the word.

Nora Burkey is currently a candidate at SIT Graduate Institute for a Master’s in Sustainable Development.  She became involved with Social Business Network in August 2013 after connecting with Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company, a trading partner of ÉTICO.  She currently lives in León, Nicaragua, and plans to continue working with Dean’s Beans and Social Business Network on development projects into 2014.

When failures matter more

This year Nicaragua hosted the 2013 Human Development and Capability Association’s annual conference.  The three day event was held in the University of Central America and the participants represented a diversity of organizations and universities from 44 different countries.  The final speaker of the conference was Joshua Cohen, an American philosopher and professor at Stamford University.  His talk focussed on his experiences bringing together students from CA and Nairobi to design mobile technology innovations that address health and human development.  His examples included several pilots that failed – point being, it’s important to fail and learn from your failures so you can apply that to your next pilot.  As long as your keep trying, you will have success.  

In the Q&A, Social Business Network’s representative at the conference asked Cohen why it is acceptable for individual startups or pilots to repeatedly fail, while other models of business development such as cooperatives are written off when they fail.  While unfortunately Cohen agreed but couldn’t offer any further insight, it is worth considering when analyzing supply chains.  Many critics of Fair Trade, for example, will cite a failed cooperative business as proof that the model doesn’t work.  But how often do you read that private corporations are an inadequate model for development because one goes bankrupt?  We are quick to forgive or blame individuals for embezzlement, tax evasion, or bad management, but when the same problems occur within a cooperative or social business setting the structure is often scrutinized rather than the individual.  

Founding director of Social Business Network, Nick Hoskyns, talks about the importance for there to be a reason for a cooperative.  Because of the inherent egalitarian structure, cooperatives are often seen as an appealing method for social development.  But problems occur when the formation of the cooperative is seen as the end rather than the means to the end – with the goal being creating a successful business.  Cooperatives that are formed for the sole reason of bringing people together to raise themselves up out of poverty rarely succeed. Cooperatives are successful for the same reasons that private businesses are – they produce a quality product for a growing market.  And they fail for the same reasons that private companies fail – market shifts that make the same product cheaper from another source, bad management, or poor leadership.  successful cooperatively owned brands such as Ocean Spray, Cabot Creamery, and the Co-operative in England are not exceptions to a rule, they are examples of good business ethics and skills applied to a model that builds leadership and democracy, and encourages equal wealth distribution.

 

Tecafé – a collaboration with Wales

The Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign has partnered with Ético and Nicaraguan cooperatives SOPPEXCCA and CECOCAFEN to offer a fair trade women’s grown coffee in Wales, Tecafé.  While the name may be confusing for those who speak Spanish – Teacoffee? – they explain that Tecaf is the Welsh word for fair, and so the name really embodies the partnership created between Nicaragua and Wales through the purchase and sales of this coffee.  Read more about the good work of the Wales Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign and watch a short video about their new coffee brand on their blog.

 

Women from the Juan Francisco Paz Silva cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua

Press Release – Successfull Celebration of Women’s Empowerment Initiative in Nicaraguan Supply Chains

First-ever initiative to count the unpaid work of women in agricultural commodity production is successful in Nicaragua 

Ético: The Ethical Trading Company Ltd., British NGO Social Business Network, and Nicaraguan farmer cooperatives celebrate the ground-breaking innovation to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains.

 Ético: The Ethical Trading Company and British NGO Social Business Network are pioneering the first ever initiative to Recognise the Unpaid Work of Women in Ethical Supply Chains. Traditionally, the price for commodity products include only direct input and labour costs, and fail to recognize or take into account the supporting unpaid work which is done mainly by women.  This is the first time that rural women’s unpaid work has been recognized as a necessary input into production and one that should be valued and remunerated. This initiative was presented on July 3, 2013 to a group of 100 invitees, including representatives from Fair Trade companies Twin, Equal Exchange, and Liberation Nuts, the Nicaraguan Embassy, UK Government officials and Tesco.  The event was organized by Ético and Social Business Network, with support from Hoare’s Bank, the Bulldog Trust, and Raleigh International.  The speakers explained the pilot stages and preliminary evaluation of the initiative with small-farmer sesame and coffee Cooperatives in Nicaragua.

The initiative developed in 2008 during a visit of the Body Shop with the Juan Francisco Paz Silva Cooperative in Achuapa, Nicaragua.  Ético gender advisor Catherine Hoskyns conducted a pilot study of women’s labour in sesame production.  Her initial findings revealed that when women’s indirect labour (eg. cooking food for field labourers) and more general domestic work are included, this counts for around 22% of the total labour input in sesame.  The results of the study were used to apply an additional cost to the price of the sesame oil for cosmetics, and has since been used to apply similar costs to the sales of coffee from Nicaraguan Cooperatives.  The Cooperatives use the increase in price margin to organize women’s empowerment activities in their communities, such as education, savings and loans schemes and labour organisation, which bring women together and strengthen the cooperatives.

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez.  Photo Credit: George Selwyn

Left to Right: (Back row) Liberty Pegg, Felicity Butler, Albert Tucker, Nick Hoskyns, Christina Archer (Front Row) Catherine Hoskyns, Rachel Lindsay, Julia Perez. Photo Credit: George Selwyn

The event on July 3 demonstrated the transformative power of integrated supply chains.  It was held at 2 Temple Place and chaired by Albert Tucker, Director of Social Business Network.  The opening speech was given by Fiona Woolf, Lord Mayor Elect of the City of London and Trustee of Raleigh International, whose inspiration to support the event came from a visit to Nicaragua in 2012 where she was present at a meeting of women participating in the initiative.  She spoke of the impact that listening to the women’s experiences working with the program of the cooperative, and concluded, “That’s why… I will also be a champion for the unpaid work of women.  I think it has huge applications across the developed world as well as in the developing world.”  A vivid account of the different types of unpaid work which women do in Nicaragua was given by Julia Perez, of Achuapa Nicaragua, and Liberty Pegg, a former volunteer with Raleigh International. Catherine Hoskyns explained the initial calculation of women’s unpaid labour in sesame production and its significance, and Felicity Butler gave her first findings about the impact of the initiative. She is researching this through her Ph.D. at Royal Holloway University, which funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and The Body Shop.   Rachel Lindsay, representative of Social Business Network in Nicaragua, gave an overview of how this concept has been piloted in coffee sales and the support it has generated from the entire supply chain.  Christina Archer, Senior Buyer for Community Fair Trade Ingredients at the Body Shop, gave a testimony, emphasising that “This initiative does also make really good business sense, and strengthens the sustainability of supply chains… Our brand is about building self-esteem and empowering women, be they the women who use our products or the women in our supply chains”.  The event was concluded by Nick Hoskyns, Founding Director of Ético, who emphasised that when you bring together committed partners, you can use business to effect real change.   He emphasised that it was not easy to get this far but “with such good collaborators, many of whom are present, we have shown that we can still make trade fairer, just as we did with the establishment of Fair Trade”.  He also credited the cooperative organisations with being instrumental in the implementation of this initiative and using the additional funds so effectively for women’s empowerment.