21 December, 2015

To change the world we need to change the way we do business

by Gemma Huett, Policy Advisor, Fairtrade Foundation

Imagine a baby girl born in Kenya today - let's call her Afia - what changes and challenges will she face in her lifetime? When we think about the Global Goals, we should remember the real human stories that lie behind them.  

I wonder if you can remember what you were doing 15 years ago? It may sound like a short time, but in this space of time our world has been transformed. For a teenager preparing for GSCEs, those fifteen years are, literally, a lifetime.

In Parliament a few weeks ago, Fairtrade welcomed a diverse and cross-sectoral panel to discuss the Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals). This panel included DFID Minister Desmond Swayne MP (Conservative) and Dr Lisa Cameron MP (SNP), Stephen Twigg MP (Labour), Fiona Bruce MP (Conservative), all from the International Development Committee. Representing businesses were Judith Batchelar from Sainsbury’s, John Steel from Cafédirect and James Mwai from Fairtrade Africa.

James challenged the panel to remember producers when discussing these Goals, inviting them to imagine a baby girl born in Kenya today – let’s call her Afia.

Right now, Afia has many challenges to pass before she even makes it to her 15th birthday. She has to survive the high infant mortality rate, get access to good healthcare, nutritious food as well as clean water and sanitation facilities.

There are new challenges, too. Dr Cameron reminded the room that climate change, and the unpredictable weather that results, regularly damages crops and makes others harder to grow. This threatens the livelihoods of farmers right across the developing world.

If fifteen years is enough time to transform the world, what is the change we hope to see in Afia’s life by 2030? It is for children like Afia that the Global Goals have been established. World governments agreed in September to commit to an ambitious list of 17 goals which address human rights, poverty reduction, climate change and environmental sustainability. Together, they aim to build a better future for all our children, whether here in the UK, or in rural Africa, by 2030.

We at Fairtrade will be watching closely as the government takes up its responsibilities for delivering the Global Goals, including its plans for working with the private sector. So I was delighted that our panel discussion saw a packed room of parliamentary colleagues, along with representatives of the NGO and business communities, all wanting to know more about the role for business in meeting the Goals.

We need trade as a force for development

Of course, signing up to the Goals was the easy part. Delivering the Goals in full has been estimated at the eye-watering cost of two trillion pounds per year. But remember, this is about more than aid, important though that is. It is about making our trade and business relationships with the developing world work as hard as possible to: reduce poverty, deliver human rights and environmental sustainability. If we are going to achieve that, we need a radical new partnership with business and civil society.

DFID’s Minister of State, Desmond Swayne, made very clear to the room how important a tool trade can be for reducing poverty and building strong and stable infrastructure. He emphasised that making sure that trade delivers against poverty goals is not just a task for DFID, but across government. He also stressed the importance of a focus on agriculture within DFID’s work, especially for the smallholder farmers who make up a high proportion of the world’s food producers – and yet ironically are often amongst the poorest.

We are all responsible

John Steel, CEO of the Fairtrade company Cafédirect, talked about how his company is working to support the Global Goals in its relationships with coffee, tea and cocoa farmers. He challenged us to remember that “the responsibility of changing the world is the responsibility of everyone”, and pressed more businesses to rise to the challenge.

We need real collaboration

Businesses, of course, are in competition with each other, so how can they collaborate in support of the Global Goals? Judith Batchelar, Director of Brand at Sainsbury’s, one of the UK’s largest retailers, wanted to see businesses moving into a “pre-competitive space” in responding to the goals. In other words, to work together on human rights, environment, or poverty, businesses need to have the courage to set aside their differences. Government too needs to create the right environment so that businesses which take action in support of the goals, and ethical trade in particular, are well supported.
To change the world, we need to change the way we do business

For farming families like Afia’s, a business relationship on its own is not enough. We need to think carefully about how we do business, so that the outcome is good for everyone. And, as Fairtrade’s James Mwai said, the starting point is to stop thinking about smallholder farmers as beneficiaries, and start thinking of them as our business partners. After all, they are not asking for charity, but for fair dealing, fair prices, and the kind of long term partnership that allows them to trade their way to a better life and livelihood. They are asking too for our partnership in facing the challenges of poverty, climate change and human rights that we all share at home and abroad.

None of this is easy, but we do have the power to make a difference. The name of our Kenyan baby girl, Afia, means “away from all problems” in Arabic. She and millions like her, must be able to look forward to life in 2030 with all the problems of poverty behind her. But we should demand more. We should demand that she also has good education, healthcare, decent work, and hope for the future. That’s something we can all work for together.

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