DRIVEN BY rising environmental awareness, many companies around the world have turned their focus to fair trade and the circular economy, the chief of the World Fair Trade Organisation (WFTO) said.
WFTO chief executive Erinch Sahan said on the sidelines of an event promoting these principles that fair trade enterprises had managed to showcase outstanding business models for the new economy. He was speaking at Ambiente19, a five-day trade fair in Germany’s commercial hub that ended on Tuesday.
“Fair trade is the most advanced model for ensuring business takes care of people. When combined with new approaches in circular economy, what results are the world’s most inspiring enterprises,” he said.
“Fair trade is all about human dignity. It is about putting people first. It is about the most advanced approaches in empowering people. By doing so, we always put the planet and people first. They come up with innovative ways to address environmental problems.”
Sahan said WFTO’s initiative would spread inspiring ideas of fair trade enterprises far and wide. Founded as a global community of fair trade enterprises in 1989, the organisation has more than 400 members across 76 countries. The membership includes over 330 companies, 70 organisations and networks that support them.
“We are growing over time. More and more enterprises are joining us. We do not want to grow the number [of WFTO members] only. What is more important is to grow with the right quality,” he said.
Member companies of WFTO are uniquely placed to embrace environmental and social objectives. They ensure placing people and the planet first in all their practices and through their business models, said Sahan.
Sahan also unveiled new plans to expand adoption of upcycling and other circular economy production models by fair trade enterprises. The initiative spans fashion, homewares and accessories, and will reach over 50 countries. It is the first global initiative of its kind to work across such a breadth of product categories and countries, he said.
“We have built the initiative where circular economy models of production are increasingly embraced by the fair trade movement over the next three years. Education and collaboration efforts will span every continent in the world,” he said.
Sahan added this would generate significant growth of upcycling across the global fair trade community by 2022.
“It is an inspiration for enterprises around the world to be aware of protecting the environment by reinvesting profits for the community. It does not matter what you produce, where you are, and what your size is. Your care for the community matters,” he said.
Sahan said member companies of WFTO are of different sizes, ranging from under 50,000 euros to over 100 million euros in turnover. He lauded active participation of Asian companies in bringing fair trade practices, and Asian firms account for more than 25 per cent of the membership.
“At WFTO, we have more than 100 companies from Asia, the highest among all the continents. It is a very significant membership, and will continue to grow further,” he said.
In terms of the number of companies, India tops in Asia while Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia are all active. Sahan also sees positive feedback from Myanmar companies, though there is no WFTO member in the country yet.
“We would like to see it changes. As Myanmar opens its economy, fair trade will be an important part,” he said.
Additionally, Sahan considers leadership of women in companies
as a step forward to the new economy.
“The majority of fair trade enterprises are led by women. This is significantly different from the mainstream economy. A regular business has less than 10 per cent of women in the leadership roles,” he said.
According to Sahan, the majority of the management in WFTO member companies are female, and most of them are chief executives.
The organisation plans to create peer learning and conduct workshops to encourage the reuse of materials and waste products in order to ensure better livelihoods.
“Enterprises need to prioritse the interest of people. We are facing environmental problems, and seeing the use of water, energy consumption and chemical use on the rise. This is something that makes the world concern. So, we need a rapid increase in fair trade enterprises,” he said.
WFTO has partnered with MADE51, a global initiative that connects refugee artisans with social enterprises to create home decor and fashion accessories. The initiative ensures that refugees are paid a fair wage for their work. The artisans strive to reduce environmental impacts by using locally sourced raw materials and repurposing waste whenever possible.
“We are calling on the retail industry to join us in helping refugees to craft new futures. Consumers today are spending more on curated consumption than ever before. This drive for individuality and personality through a unique curation of home design and decoration, combined with the opportunity to help build better futures,” said Heidi Christ, global lead of MADE51.