I am regularly perplexed by a dilemma that I call the ‘Fair Trade conundrum’.
To explain, let me take you to the supermarket. Notice the amount of product ranges that pitch ethical and sustainable variants as the premium version of the product: fair trade, free range, locally sourced, ethically farmed, rainforest protected... the list goes on.
I can only deduce, therefore, that the shelf-mates of these laudable products (the ones that don’t carry such labels) are procured by exploiting farmers, maltreating animals, knocking down rainforests or flying apples half way around the world? You see the dilemma? By highlighting the planet-loving credentials of one product, the retail marketing folk are potentially exposing the nasty origin of others – which forces the discerning shopper to spend more on the premium-priced ‘fair trade’ option.
To take that point further, the right option doesn’t have to be the costly option.
In a business context, being fair, ethical, sustainable, environmentally considerate, community-minded, people-centric (this list goes on, too) is frequently viewed as a cost to the business when, in fact, there is almost always a demonstrable return on investment.
From the environmental perspective, the most basic approach is to reduce your energy consumption to reduce your energy costs and therefore your carbon footprint. There are more adventurous options, too, such as the recent food-waste-to-electricity project by British supermarket giant, Sainsburys. Apart from the kudos and great headlines for Sainsburys, you can bet that there will be cost savings, too.
But it’s not just about the environment.
Corporate responsibility – doing the right thing – is good for business.
Community volunteering not only benefits the community in which a business operates but provides a hands-on, cost-effective mechanism to improve people-management and organizational skills1 and strengthens employee loyalty.
Recruiting from a broad, diverse resource pool brings creativity and innovation that a monocultural organization won’t. According to one study from the Harvard Business Review, employees at companies with high levels of diversity are 45% likelier to report that their firm’s market share grew over the previous year and 70% likelier to report that the organization captured a new market.
The fact is that, no matter what way you cut it, trading fairly is a good way to deliver profit.
Time to ‘wake up and smell the (fair trade) coffee’
1. Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), ‘Youth Social Action and Transitions into Work: What Role for Employers?’, November 2013.
2. Harvard Business Review, How diversity can drive innovation, Sylvia Ann Hewlett, Melinda Marshall, and Laura Sherbin, December 2013