The MacLaren lecture on Management is an annual joint event in memory of one the Midlands’ leading industrialists – James Edward MacLaren who was a founding member of the Chartered Management Institute Birmingham Branch. He was also Chairman of the Board of Governors of the Birmingham College of Technology which, in 1966, became Aston University.
This year’s MacLaren lecture was hosted by Harriet Lamb CBE, Executive Director of the Fairtrade Foundation, a position held since 2001. The Fairtrade Foundation, established in 1992, is an independent non-profit organisation set up by CAFOD, Christian Aid, Oxfam, Traidcraft and the World Development Movement.
The remarkably down-to-earth Executive Director explored the growth of Fairtrade and the direct impact it has had on companies around the world. She went on to discuss why companies engage in Fairtrade, focusing on how this is received by employees.
Growth of Fairtrade at work
The talk began with describing how Fairtrade has gone from a small idea 15 years ago, to a global phenomenon with huge impact. What started off a grassroots social movement is now socially expected of many new companies coming into the market today. Estimated UK retail sales have seen a dramatic increase from £16.7m in 1998 to a staggering £799m in 2009.
The audience were given a handful of facts to demonstrate just how much the Foundation has moved forward. Around the U.K. today, there are:
468 Fairtrade towns
111 Fairtrade universities, of which Aston University is one
6000 Fairtrade faith groups
4000 schools signed up to the Fairtrade scheme
70% recognise the Fairtrade trademark, with 94% of those trusting the brand
82% think a product carrying the Fairtrade trademark, has a positive impact on their impression of it
Global companies now recognise Fairtrade as an initiative that is needed to be incorporated into their workplace. PricewaterhouseCoopers document ‘Sustain: Are consumers buying it?’ from 2008 explains how doing nothing is no longer an option and it is the early adopters who gain the most advantage of being ethically responsible. London Ford’s Chair, Rosie Boycott has even gone on to suggest the possibility of the first Fairtrade Olympics, hosted by London in 2012. KPMG, Virgin Trains and the Co-Op are all other early adopters who have seen consequent increases in staff morale since Fairtrade has been introduced to the company.
Empowerment of the workers
One of the key missions of the Fairtrade Foundation is to bring together producers and consumers in a citizens’ movement for change. Not only do the Foundation want to go to under-privileged countries to tackle poverty and injustice through trade, but also to instil the empowerment of workers, leaving them with a sense of control over their livelihood. Harriet gave various examples of emotive stories in of young women struggle to support their children with the problem of HIV and Aids rife in the area. Maternity rights and educational scholarships are just a few of the initiatives that the Foundation are trying to roll out amongst these communities, to help raise the standard of living. An example was given of one village in Malawi where children typically had to walk 10 miles to get to their nearest school to receive a basic education. The Fairtrade Foundation came along and built a new school closer to the village with two classrooms in one year; by year three, the school has grown to eight classrooms, with hundreds of young children benefitting from the scheme.
The future of Fairtrade
The future of Fairtrade is strong, bright and positive. A company that is growing by huge amounts year to year has never had such relevance in today’s society and climate. Companies who had previously received criticism for their source of commodities have now turned to Fairtrade as an alternative. Cadbury’s Dairy Milk has gone Fairtrade, in 2008 Starbucks announced to go 100% Fairtrade on all espresso-based coffees in the UK and Ireland; a huge commitment from such an established brand and now Sainsbury’s have completion the conversion of all own-label roast and ground coffee to Fairtrade.
Harriet Lamb described today’s working world as one where “you can’t leave your morals at home” and she could not be right. The best graduates today are those who ask questions regarding a company’s stance on CSR and Fairtrade. The Foundation has a long way to go to become even further established with the U.S, India and Switzerland currently leading the way.
There are substantial Fairtrade products currently available to the public, and the question was asked, what next? The audience were excitedly told that Fairtrade gold in Columbia is on the horizon with even the possibility of owning a diamond that has been ethically mined...
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