30 Sep 2008
Safia Minney is a social entrepreneur created herfashion company People Tree with Fair Trade principles long before theyhit mainstream consciousness.
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We need to start paying the real costs of what we buy, where we bank, and how we treat others ó all have an impact and all are political acts.’
Safia Minney is a social entrepreneur and a true pioneer, creating her fashion company People Tree with Fair Trade principles long before they hit mainstream consciousness. As Fair Trade means paying producers in developing countries a fair price, this enables them to meet social and environmental needs that otherwise would go unmet, for example access to education, health care, clean water and food security. Workers can remain in their rural communities and work in amenable conditions, rather than be forced to move away from their family to a city, to work in a factory or sweatshop. To promote Fair Trade, Minney initiated World Fair Trade Day, which is celebrated in May each year in 70 countries around the world.
“The change we’re seeking to create is threefold ó social, environmental and structural. The first is the social change that we bring to the farmers’ and artisans’ lives and their communities through Fair Trade. This change enables them to meet their basic needs ó to eat not only once a day but three times a day, and to be able to get basic health care and send their children to school. They go on to rebuild their houses, start a kitchen garden or rear chickens or goats that provide further income. This is the change that a livelihood, training and a good income brings.
The second change comes through pioneering environmental initiatives that strengthen the economic and environmental situation of a family or a community. For example, we started an organic cotton project in India 12 years ago, and now we are introducing it to Bangladesh; we promote natural fibres and hand production methods that have the lowest carbon footprint; and we work with groups to promote environmental awareness and education locally. With farmers’ groups we look at ways, through a fair price, to initiate, support and strengthen natural and organic agriculture. Fair Trade is the only environmentally sustainable way of trading ó benefiting the people with both the lowest income and the smallest environmental footprint. We need to push the values of Fair Trade into mainstream business.
Thirdly, the Fair Trade product itself is a tool for change. Not only does it empower producers in the developing world, but consumers are empowered too. While globalisation has meant that people know little about how and where things they buy are made, or about the exploitation of people and natural resources that happen in their name, Fair Trade has opened up a new chapter of transparency. It will become increasingly hard to find a skirt for the price of a sandwich, and eventually the directors of companies will be liable when labour rights and environmental laws are violated. We need to start paying the real cost of what we buy, where we bank, and how we treat others ó all have an impact and all are political acts. It’s also fun to learn about the world and your place in it.
We’re all catalysts for change ó good or bad. Before I started Global Village, I lobbied as an individual; today I lobby as an organisation ó we are more powerful because we are many, but in principle it’s the same. We lobby industry for change. I spend a lot of time working with the fashion industry, social innovation networks and at the World Economic Forum, to promote new ways of doing business that incorporate the triple bottom line ó not just profiting financially, but also socially and environmentally ó and we look at how those models for change can be scaled-up and put into fast-forward.”
This is excerpts from interviews featured in the book Be The Change: Action and reflection from people transforming our world. It consists of a series of inspiring interviews conducted and compiled by Trenna Cormack and published by Love Books, ISBN 978−09555−213−00, £12.99. It’s available now from all good bookshops and at www.lovebooks.co.uk and www.bethechange.org.uk
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