Putting people & planet first is common-sense (our new initiative)

At its heart, Fair Trade is about people. It shapes trade in order to benefit cocoa and coffee farmers. It transforms business to empower garment workers and artisans. Around the world, it has forged a movement that is about putting producers first. But it turns out that working for people also means working for our planet. When we look across our global community of Fair Trade Enterprises, we see a surge in upcycling waste, organic agriculture, investments in renewable energy and efforts to eliminate water pollution. The heart of Fair Trade is both people and planet. 

In the slums of Bangladesh, Prokritee supports thousands of families through turning waste saris, paper and discarded cotton from fast fashion factories into bags, baskets and ornaments. When the staff at Prokritee saw their water-ways blocked up by water hyacinth, they looked to turn the problem into a business solution. Now they collect the water hyacinth, using the pulp to make paper and the dry stems to weave baskets.

These stories are repeated the world over. On the island of Zanzibar, Chako has built a Fair Trade business around turning waste glass and discarded magazines into lighting accessories and bead curtains. In the Mtendeli refugee camp in northwest Tanzania, WomenCraft supports Burundian refugee women turn food sacks into home décor. From Asha in India to VillageWorks in Cambodia, Green Glass in Chile to Entoto Beth in Ethiopia, Fair Trade Enterprises are seeing the business opportunity in upcycling fabrics, metal, glass and more (see this brilliant short film about turning waste into glassware in Chile). These are businesses embedded in their communities, poised to embody local wisdom and embrace local ideas. Enterprises like WomenCraft and Chako focus on local weaving techniques and local customs around minimising waste to create their products. Upcycling and Fair Trade come naturally to their communities.

Focusing on people and planet is common-sense when you think about it. Communities depend on clean rivers, healthy soils and sustainable use of the natural resources. These things keep us alive and make our economies and societies thrive. Ignoring our planet is like sawing off the branch we all sit on. But mainstream business is doing just this – undermining the very natural ecosystem that we rely on. Unsustainable businesses around the world are powering ahead and leaving behind them a wasteland of destruction. In the US alone, 21 billion pounds of clothes end up in landfills each year. According to BCG analysis, the fashion sector alone puts us on a path of 50% increase in water consumption, 63% increase in energy emissions and 62% increase in waste creation over the course of the15 years leading up to 2030. Meanwhile deforestation continues to wreak havoc on communities and our planet, as 18.7 million acres of forests are lost annually, equivalent to 27 football fields every minute (according to WWF). This is driven by global supply chains like food, paper and agricultural raw materials (palm oil, soy, sugar etc). While global food, fashion and home décor brands drive environmental destruction through their thirst for cheap supplies, pesky Fair Trade Enterprises are springing up to clean up their mess.

This is why we are launching a new initiative to supercharge the trend of Fair Trade combining with circular economy. By the end of 2020, we aim to have upcycling and other circular economy models embraced by Fair Trade Enterprises in over 50 countries. To achieve this, we will focus on what the WFTO community does best – collaboration. Insights will be shared, peer learning will be facilitated and workshops will be organised to reach Fair Trade Enterprises on every continent. The focus will be on fashion, home and décor. In food, we will see an increasing focus on organic agriculture among Fair Traders, as part of a growing movement bringing together organic and Fair Trade.

What’s key is to address both the production and consumption side of the equation. On the consumption side, engaging consumers with the story of Fair Trade Enterprises will be key. On the production side, we will continue to innovate in adopting circular economy and organic production models. And the circular economy focus goes beyond upcycling – with new ideas around fully recycled materials being developed by social enterprises interested in adopting the Fair Trade Enterprise model.

For 30 years, the WFTO community has gathered the world’s businesses who exist to put the interests of producers first. This is a transformative idea to have business prioritise farmers, workers and artisans above increasing its profits. Doing so unlocks the potential of business to be force for good. It makes it possible to invest in people and planet in ways that go beyond today’s mainstream business world.  

Innovations that tackle environmental issues are becoming a central part of Fair Trade. When combined with a natural focus on the dignity of people, Fair Trade Enterprises begin to look like the enterprises of the new economy.

By Erinch Sahan
Chief Executive, WFTO