Seven Women supporting La Trobe to become a Fair Trade University

Awareness is the first step in pushing businesses towards responsible practices. Consumers have a big impact with the money they spend. We all have money, we all buy things from different brands, we can choose as individuals to support brands that are doing good in the world.

An example of how individual consumers and employees can make a difference can be found in the story of Interfaces founder Ray C. Anderson. When Ray was 60 years old and his business interface was booming, he began to hear a question from customers that he had never heard before and for which he had no answers: ‘What’s your company doing for the environment?’ It was proving awkward for his sales team, manufacturing people and research people, because they didn’t have anything they could say.

Ray pulled together a task force to assess what they were doing and what they could do. Members of the research division decided there should be a group that met regularly – they wanted to closely follow what was happening and asked Ray to give them a kick-off speech with his environmental vision. When he refused they stayed on his case until he agreed. In the course of his research he read Paul Hawkin’s book, The Ecology of Commerce, which made him aware of what his company was doing to the earth. He didn’t have the awareness of the environment, but he was attuned to his customers and was interested in what they were interested in.

Once he learnt the problems the industrial system had inflicted on the environment he realised he had a part to play. Then, he challenged his staff to lead his company to sustainability. Ultimately, Ray adopted a bold new vision moving his company away from the traditional industrial business model towards a model focused on sustainability. This is just one of many case studies of how employees and customers can influence business owners to use their businesses as a force for good.

A few lecturers at La Trobe University had the idea of making Fair Trade University through the Fair Trade Association of Australia and New Zealand. To achieve this, La Trobe had to have a certain number of their vendors selling fair trade products, as well as buying from fair trade suppliers. The lecturers had meetings with the café owners to tell them what fair trade was and suggest suppliers that would provide fair trade products. At first, they were not interested and had no reason to change. Our Seven Women weekly stall was the perfect platform to spread awareness among students of the plan and we asked them if the next time they got a coffee they could ask the café if they were serving Fair Trade, and if not, why not. Over time the café owners began to attend the meetings and taking an active interest. They eventually made the switch and La Trobe is a proudly Fair Trade university. It was a very effective campaign led by students and lecturers.

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The ability of businesses to improve society and progress humanity is infinite. There is a limit to profit making but there is no limit to social good that is possible. In fact, business exists to improve society. If business owners saw themselves as ethical leaders with a moral responsibility and consumers held them to account, big things would be possible.

If we start seeing business owners how we see leaders, and if they start seeing themselves as leaders, the same change can begin. It’s beneficial for businesses to start acting in an ethical way because there’s a lot of research that’s been done on Millennials, showing that the younger generation want more from companies across the board. When they’re getting out into the work force from university, it’s not just profit or a job, they want to work for a company with purpose, and with a good company comes a good culture of good people.

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If you’re a business owner you can choose to conduct your procurement from women-led companies, create gender balance in your workplace, ensure there are equal ratios in senior leadership and award equal pay rates. An employee can ask questions and speak out against unethical practices or bullying. A consumer can support companies that support gender equality and ethical trade, diversity and everything good for the world.

We have the power. As individuals we have a voice – we need to use it. Inequality affects us all. People need to support each other. This is an excerpt of Stephanie Woollards book 'From a tin shed to the United Nations'

 

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