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Business should be a force for good

Dame Anita Roddick, who founded The Body Shop in 1976, pioneered the idea of using ‘Business as a force for good’. The company launched Community Trade in 1987 as ‘Trade Not Aid’. This was a unique concept in the cosmetics industry. It started with Teddy Exports in Tirumangalam, Tamil Nadu, who produce accessories for us. We are still working with this impressive organisation 32 years later. Community Trade has grown into a global programme now.

Beyond fair pricing

People often ask, what is the difference between fair trade and Community Trade? Community Trade is our bespoke fair trade programme which is externally verified by Ecocert. We’ve always followed the core principles of fair trade – paying a fair price, offering favourable trade terms and providing targeted support to our Community Trade partners to help build sustainable businesses.
Many suppliers also receive a premium fund (in addition to a fair price) to invest in community projects. The funds are managed by elected members of producer groups to democratically invest in projects to benefit their wider community. This is where real social impact can be achieved, by reaching wider beneficiaries such as the families and neighbours of producer groups. The funds are often used to build clean water facilities, health clinics, schools and childcare centres.
Some suppliers also use the fund to invest in community outreach programmes. We’ve seen some truly brave and innovative outreach initiatives pioneered by Community Trade suppliers. Teddy Exports have a long history of tackling taboo subjects in India. They have raised awareness of safe sex, and offer medical care and counseling for truck drivers who are at increased risk of contracting and spreading HIV/ Aids.
Today, they are leading the way with a tailoring skills programme for community sex workers, offering alternative income opportunities for a truly marginalised section of their community. The tailoring programme is now evolving to include transgender sex workers. After spending a lot of my working life in rural India, I understand how this could surprise some readers! This is what really inspires me. Why can’t we use business and trade as a way to help improve people’s lives? It is a simple concept that many more businesses could adopt.
Long-term trade relationships and investment needs to be the aim of any business striving to create social change. A great example is shea butter – we’ve sourced handcrafted shea butter from Tungteiya Women’s Association in northern Ghana since 1994. The association has grown from 50 members to 640 women.
People living in this rural area of Ghana have very limited economic opportunities; 25 years of trade and investment has resulted in access to clean water, 7 schools and a health clinic – benefiting 49,000 people across 11 villages. The women producers also tell us that they feel empowered by their financial independence and have a more united voice in their community.
Another of our long-standing Community Trade partners is Get Paper Industry (GPI) in Nepal, supplying handcrafted paper and gift boxes since 1989. Long-term investment has enabled GPI to form its own charitable foundation, General Welfare Pratisthan (GWP). GWP has Women Waste Pickers at Dry Waste Collection Centre focused on raising awareness of human trafficking in recent years and actively engaged 500 young women in their Anti-Trafficking Programme in 2018. The women receive education and training from GWP staff to enable them to work in rural villages raising awareness of this issue.

Role of women in supply chains

Women have a vital role in supply chains, whether they are directly involved as workers/ producers or playing an equally important role supporting their families ‘behind the scenes’. In 2017, we started sourcing Community Trade mango seed oil from Chhattisgarh, central India. Our suppliers, Manorama, have built a cooperative called Jay Bharat which has grown from an initial group of 200 to 1,000 women who are representatives for mango collection (as well as other nuts and seeds).
The women collect wild mango from the forest, extract the kernel, dry it and then work collaboratively in women’s groups to manage mango kernel orders. They are now responsible for the management of the trade: being accountable for quality, managing funds, setting up bank accounts and paying cooperative members a fair price.
This trade relationship is quite new but is already showing the power of women uniting together to improve their livelihoods. Women’s contribution as unpaid family labour in smallholder farming has also long been under-recognised.

Right way to do business

There are several challenges in managing Community Trade partnerships. The producer groups we trade with are not normal businesses and commercial corporations. It is common to experience challenges in logistics and communications (for example, caused by language and remoteness of some suppliers), and organisational structures are not always set up to effectively manage our business and implement positive changes.
Fair trade can be innovative too. In May 2019, we launched Community Trade recycled plastic from India which we will be integrating into our plastic packaging. The plastic has been collected by waste pickers in Bengaluru. We’re working with a consortium of partners – Plastics For Change, Hasiru Dala and Hasiru Dala Innovations.
Plastics For Change have pioneered an innovative mobile phone app for waste pickers to sell their waste for a fair price and record sales. They are the first recycler to be certified by the World Fair Trade Organization.
Hasiru Dala are fighting for equality for waste pickers. They’ve successfully obtained Occupational Identity Cards to formally recognise the work of waste pickers and enable them to open bank accounts. For me personally, this has been one of our most challenging supply chains and also most exciting projects to work on.

How other businesses can replicate this

I understand that many companies may find sourcing products in this way a daunting prospect especially if this is a new area of work. There are many support organisations that can help navigate the complexities, including of course buying registered Fair-Trade products. I recommend the World Fair Trade Organisation and FLOCERT websites as a good first step into researching your options.
I am happy to be contacted and make introductions to our Community Trade partners. Businesses can have a much more amplified positive impact together than acting alone.

Lee Mann joined The Body Shop in 1998. As the Global Community Trade Manager, he is responsible for managing the relationships with producer groups in Central America, Africa, Asia and Europe who supply the cosmetics firm with high quality handicrafts, ingredients and plastic through its unique Community Trade programme.

This column is from our quarterly print magazine. To grab a copy, click here. Views of the author are personal and do not necessarily represent the website’s views.

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The CSR Journal Team