Finding the Sweet Spot:
Smarter ethical trade that delivers more for all
24th May 2012
“It was a fitting tribute to the space that Impactt has filled in the ethical trade area over the past 15 years. The event got to some of the key issues and challenges and was successful in managing open and honest discussions.”- Dan Rees, Better Work
24th May was a very special day for Impactt. It was our first ever conference and a hugely successful attempt at convening diverse industry stakeholders to co-create the collective future of ethical trade- a future which makes a real difference for people and businesses around the world.
The 150 participants created an unmistakable buzz in the air. From retailers like Tesco and Marks & Spencer to NGOs like Oxfam and War on Want. From government departments like DFID to multi-stakeholder organisations like ETI. From factory managers in Bangladesh to global investors like CLSA. The audience was mixed and people heard voices they don’t normally hear.
The day kicked off with a moving and honest speech by Nazma Akter, an inspiring trade union leader who started working in the Bangladeshi garment industry at the age of 11. Nazma’s speech set the tone of the day. This wasn’t about getting stuck in the world of risk management. It was about challenging our own boundaries and really asking ourselves what it would take to deliver tangible changes and benefits for the poorest people in global supply chains- in a way which makes sense for business.
Some workshops were reflective and provided a space for people to think differently. Some workshops were hands-on and pragmatic. Participants identified practical ways to move beyond auditing, make progress on living wages and address child labour in formal and informal contexts.
Probably the most thought-provoking part of the day was the final panel discussion which saw 6 very different stakeholders (a brand, a supplier, an NGO, a worker representative, an investor and an international organisation) argue about the biggest actions we need to take in order to make a real difference to the lives and livelihoods of people in our supply chain.
Here are some snapshots of the conversation which really capture the essence of the day:
“Buying companies need to recognise that they have to take a wider interest in what happens throughout their supply chain if it’s going to be sustainable- if it’s going to deliver for them, product of the necessary quality, quantity and price for them to continue in their businesses.”
“We need to get away from the expectation that you can sit at one end of the supply chain and expect it to ad infinitum what it has done for the last 50 years. Because the reality is, for lots of small farmers and workers, the market isn’t working. And it needs people in that supply chain to stimulate other forms of activity, whether it’s about worker rights, agricultural investment or market access. It’s up to buying companies to think what are we going to do differently to help those farmers and communities have a more sustainable livelihood for the future.”
“I know 3 large shoe-manufacturers in China. One of them pays their workers higher wages, but it earns the same return on equity (ROE) as the other two who don’t. But in a world where labour law is tightening, the two who treat their workers less well will see their ROE go down. Investors will seek out the business which has a more sustainable return on equity because that share price will maintain and rise over time.”
It was a privilege for Impactt to host this vibrant exchange of thoughts and ideas. We were touched and inspired by the level of passion and commitment in the room to drive ethical trade forward in great leaps and bounds. And we can’t wait to do it again.