Enterprise: The Fairtrade workplace

By Sam Eichblatt

Photo / James Russell
Photo / James Russell

Converting your office lunch room to Fairtrade products is easy and can make a big impact, particularly when your staff drink one million cups of tea and coffee each year.

Over the last few decades, the Fairtrade movement's most visible manifestation has been the labelled packets you'll find in the coffee shelves of almost every supermarket and more than a few delis in New Zealand.

Unlike other, harder-to-quantify ethical differentiators - the much used and abused "organic" springs to mind - its certification system and point of difference for the consumer are both pragmatic and simple. It literally does what is says on the tin: trades fairly with the small producers of some of the world's largest commodities to ensure everyone wins.

The movement's roots are in 1940s non-governmental American aid groups, and it became a viable model for alternative business in the 1960s. In 1968 the slogan, "Trade not Aid" was adopted by the United Nations, to focus on the establishment of equitable trade relations with disadvantaged nations.

In 1988, the first Fairtrade labelling initiative was created in Holland, an independent certification system that quickly caught on in supermarkets throughout Europe and North America. Globally, sales have exploded over the last two decades, bringing measurable benefits to six million people in 58 countries across the developing world.

It's no accident that the growth of Fairtrade mirrors the rise of the globalised economy. "The fundamental problem growers face is a lack of visibility in the commodity market," says business development manager Pravin Sawmy. "Coffee farmers, for example, invest a lot and at the end of the year the global coffee price might drop below the cost of production."

About 16 years ago, says Sawmy, the organisation realised many places within the community were becoming ad hoc supporters of the principle.

"There were cafés and offices using Fairtrade products, schools were learning about it - we thought, why not become a Fairtrade office or town? It was a novel idea at the time, but it got support, so we started giving people accreditation."

Wellington and Dunedin are already accredited Fairtrade towns, and an enthusiastic campaign is underway to bring Auckland onboard. Around the country, 135 workplaces are signed-up members. In Wellington Zoo, the monkeys even eat Fairtrade bananas - but in our coffee-mad land, it's probably not surprising the message has arrived mostly through the medium of hot drinks.

A simple pledge to use only Fairtrade coffee, tea and hot chocolate can have a big effect. "It's a little step people can make in their workplace that affects people on the other side of world," says Sawmy.

"And it sits well with workplaces that are keen on becoming more sustainable, or have a CSR policy."

The BNZ certified in 2010, and is currently the largest employer in the country to have accreditation; its employees drink around a million cups of coffee and tea a year - all of it now Fairtrade.?"

For us, it's a very visible sign of our organisation's commitment to sustainability," says Michael Field, sustainable development manager at BNZ. The bank also promotes the principles through its many business partners.

"Initiatives like carbon neutrality tend to happen behind the scenes, but the Fairtrade accreditation allows us to spread a message that influences staff behaviour."

Feedback has been wholehearted. "The most common response is questions about how they can get more things Fairtrade certified," says Field. "If you think about those informal meetings that take place around the coffee machine, it's a great trigger for discussion."

Meridian Energy saw the same response from its team when accreditation was introduced. "It was a good fit for us," says its procurement strategy manager, Shayne Gray.

"Sustainability is part of the company DNA anyway, so we think it's a great initiative that we can use our purchasing power to help Fairtrade grow."

Here's how you can become a Fairtrade workplace:

There are two aspects to accreditation.

1. ?Use Fairtrade certified products. The Fairtrade website has a downloadable purchasing guide, as well as procurement guides for larger firms.

2. Promote Fairtrade in the workplace with posters, stickers or events, and by supplying information to staff.

Fairtrade workplaces in Auckland:

World Vision Oxfam
Trade Aid x 5 locations
Lush Cosmetics x 2 locations
Ecotech Solutions Ltd
The Depot Artspace, Devonport
Meadowlands Pharmacy
Sustainable Business Network, Waitakere
Steven Marr Hair Design Limited x 2 locations
Collectively Kids Ltd
HB Media
Bee Ltd
Refugee Migrant Service
Lexel Systems Limited, Albany
Pead PR, Newmarket
Mind and Body Consultants, Epsom
Soil and Health Association of NZ
Corporate Express
Office Max
Zenergy Ltd
Amnesty International
Green Party Auckland offices
BP office, Penrose
Touchpoint NZ Ltd
Edmund Rice Centre ?Mind and Body Consultants, West Auckland
Fresh PR
My Little Tornado
Ecostore Co Ltd
Tourism Auckland
Spoon TV
University of Auckland, Department of Psychology
Greenpeace NZ
East Day Spa
Babta Products
Auckland Sea Kayaks
Images and Sound

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