Before forming my own company, I had several life-altering business experiences while working for other firms. In Europe for four of nine years, my work took me to 29 countries over five continents. Often I flew solo as the consultant expert, but more often I flew in crowds, managing teams of five to 125 consultants.
Orienteering environments as a manager (and den mother) in foreign lands was a course in the human and business condition. As Dickens wrote, “it was the best of times and it was the worst of times” -- the benevolence of humanity astride the dregs of “let them eat cake” indifference. Cultural, political and environmentally-motivated chapters were dog-eared in my mind. Business and consulting practices spanned successful-and-sustainable to sleazy-and-illegal. The warp-speed and ever changing nature of the experience was thrilling, addictive, and chockfull of mental vertigo.
Eventually I returned to the U.S. The lure of a good peanut butter n' jelly sandwich and a permanent closet eventually out-weighed the lust for platinum waiting room cards. I returned determined to leverage the best of what I had experienced and work for transforming the worst I had seen. I wanted more for myself, for my work, for my consultants, for my clients, for humanity, and for the world.
When I formed Pioneer Technologies, I started out with a focus on honesty, ethics and integrity which quickly expanded to a commitment to striving for socially and environmentally responsible business. My research and work since my travels has led me to investigate, test, and implement many forms of responsible business. One practice in particular seems to offer the best of the responsible business models. Fair Trade.
I settled on Fair Trade as the model for my business and the coaching methodology for my clients because it reflects:
- the sensibilities of Abundance Economics and Agile Methodologies,
- a premium on the environment as found in Green and Organic models,
- care for humanity as displayed in Social Entrepreneurship , Slow Food , and True Cost models, and
- the benefits of collaboration over colonization found in For-Benefit (Fourth Sector) and Human Development models.
Currently Fair Trade is focused on trade from persons in developing nations to persons in developed nations. The International Fair Trade Association has established ten principles to guide fair trade transactions. We have found success using these principals with any project or organization striving for social and environmental responsibility, regardless of the location of their operations or supply chain.
Paraphrased Fair Trade principles:
- Opportunities: Create opportunities for producers disadvantaged or marginalized by the conventional trading system.
- Transparency and Accountability: Transparent management and commercial relations.
- Capacity Building: Develop producers’ independence.
- Promoting Fair Trade: Provide consumers with Fair Trade education and honest marketing.
- Payment of a Fair Price: A fair price in the local context agreed through dialogue and participation.
- Gender Equity: Women’s work is properly valued and rewarded.
- Working Conditions: Safe and healthy working environment for producers.
- Child Labor: Children’s well-being, security, educational requirements and need for play are key.
- The Environment: Encourage better environmental practices and responsible methods of production.
- Trade Relations: Advance payments are made when possible, and profits are not maximized at producers’ expense.
-- the World Fair Trade Organization
Hardcore executives and entrepreneurs often dismiss these principles sighting supply and demand, free market economy, share holder earnings, or other monetary-only bottom line measurements of success. This rhetoric comes from eyes that have not yet seen and ears that have not yet heard the label reading, publicly commenting hyper-growth of the conscious consumer movement. Even the corporate elite who don't grasp this moment's power buy biodegradable cleaning products, consider a new bamboo floor, and drive hybrids. In developed countries, anyone can become an eco-chic, justice-concerned trend setter for the mass consumer base.
When there are multiple forms of success to be had, why would you settle for just one? Stay tuned for upcoming posts where I'll explore the ten Fair Trade principals through practical applications, the conscious consumer movement, and their impact to people, profit and planet.