Sorry for the absence … I have been focussed on getting my business ready for launch, whilst trying to fight off illness. Not too successful with the latter but making progress with the business!
One of the questions I am always asking myself is “How do I want people to see my business?”
I think the simple answer is fair, ethical and a pleasure to deal with.
Recently I’ve been thinking a great deal about the concept of ‘Fair Trade’ and ask myself, “Why do we need to advertise the fact?”
Sadly I’m led to our history of wanting something for nothing. Business will tell you that there is no such thing as a free lunch … and I think there is no such thing as cheap goods without suffering.
We love to wear the ‘big name’ labels and use top branded goods, but I wonder how often we ask what cost the quality item really has attached to its label. I’m not talking about the extra £30 or more because of the name; I’m talking about the human cost in producing the item.
Not too long ago, there were several ‘under cover’ reports that exposed the depravity of many of our so-called respected brand names as they used sweatshops to produce their goods. The workers rarely saw much more than £1 (often working for the equivalent of 12p – 30p an hour with no increase for overtime), if they were lucky, for the high quality fruits of their labours that were selling for over £100 in the high street. Not a bad profit margin for the brand. And as these top brands promise to ‘supply goods to you at an even lower price’, the workers in these sweatshops face the threat of physical violence or instant dismissal from their job if they dare to campaign for higher wages or improved conditions. What is their cost? Our bargains become their ticket to misery and fear. The job they do is probably essential for the survival of their family. The poverty we want to fight in disgust as we see it on our television screens, WE actually create and prolong through our greed and ‘good trading sense’. In our focus on the shareholder we seem to have lost the focus on humanity. The ‘£’ or ‘$’ speaks louder than the people who create them!
Yes, the Fair Trade label and ethos is a sad reflection of our history of unfair trade and oppression; a culture of getting what we want, at the price we want and at great cost (but luckily, not to us!).
Thankfully, the exposure of these inhuman working conditions and unethical trading practices has stirred a few people to say, “Enough is enough!” and introduce the concept of Fair Trade. So we pay more for goods, perhaps a little nearer their true value in terms of the effort and skill that went into producing them whether it’s clothes, jewellery, local crafts or food supplies.
And in a society of spin it is increasingly difficult to discern the truth from the lies, where politicians and company officials promise much (usually because their hide is at stake) but then forget their promises. We trust each other less and less. So it’s good that Fair Trade is on the agenda because we are given the chance to buck the trend and demonstrate a different model for trading and life in general. The great news is that the ‘big boys’ are having to review what they do at least in part (though not too much at the moment and they still screw many of their essential suppliers with crippling payment terms and demands for exclusivity of contract … whilst retaining the ability to terminate contracts if they are ‘not happy’ … whatever that means!! … effectively condemning the supplier to bankruptcy). Hopefully public pressure will continue to the extent that these unscrupulous traders will be required to undo the wrong they have done and actually compensate the areas in which they have inflicted slavery in the name of quality and profit. Perhaps they will even be able to feel gratified in re-investing their profits into something with longer term gain.
One final word of caution relating to the Fair Trade sign …
As with all things involving humans, we still need to be careful. I recently heard of one small, local retailer who gives the impression that they support fair trading by displaying the Fair Tradesign in their shop when much of the jewellery and gifts they sell are definitely not Fair Trade. Be sure to ask if you’re uncertain. If the items are fairly traded, your vendor should be able to tell you something of their origins and the process that makes them fairly traded.
So, a I’ve been a bit more controversial with this post, and I write as much to myself as to any reader when I say that a good kick up the backside is good for the soul every once in a while.
Until next time …