The topic of fair trade may seem unusual from a guy like me who usually writes and speaks about sustainability with a focus on packaging. However, today environmental responsibility and social responsibility are rightly tied together and most would agree we can’t solve one problem while ignoring the other.
To most people the fair trade problem is literally foreign to them. Others (myself included) believe fair trade does not begin at our nation’s borders, especially when the definition is expanded to include the way we conduct business with one another, domestically. Regardless of where it occurs, the question should be, are we doing business (trading) with others in an ethical (fair) way?
A Unique Perspective
Our position as a packaging designer and supplier permits us to do business with a wide variety of green, organic, and fair trade businesses. In some cases, because of the complexity or duration of a project, we end up with an “inside look” at their company and operation, while maintaining an unbiased or impartial perspective.
As a result of this unique relationship, we can confidently state most of the people we do business with are sincere and committed to their cause. If they are green, they are eco-consistent green. If they are organic, their standards are not compromised by a slightly lower price from an unverified source. And, if they promote themselves as a fair trade company, they go to great lengths to make sure the people who make the products they offer, are treated and compensated fairly.
However, there are also situations when the economic climate or competitive market makes it easier for all of us to justify applying different standards here at home, than those we strive for overseas. The three areas where that commitment can slip are:
I probably make more shopping trips than most men because I am always eager to see what others are doing in packaging. It seems I am seeing more and more downsizing and not nearly as much down pricing. Delivering less of the product we are selling for the same price is deceptive and unfair. What irks me most is when people do it in the name of sustainability with bold print that says something like “Now with 20% less packaging.” What they fail to mention is that they’re also offering 20 percent less product at the same, previous price.
I might also mention that it is not just the big CPG companies that are guilty of this. It is also being done by much smaller companies as they feel the same profitability pinch. As consumers, we should all expect higher marketing ethics and standards when we choose to buy “made in the USA” in place of imported products.
We are very fortunate that our clients appreciate and respect what we offer in terms of time and talent. Who doesn’t sincerely appreciate customers who sincerely appreciate them?
What I have noticed is a recent trend to utilize outside resources, including prospective vendors to do some of the design, engineering or even basic market homework they once had staff do. Sure, we can all relate to being over worked and shorthanded but if we really have no intention of moving our business, why not ask the incumbent vendor to provide the needed help? If the current supplier is not capable of delivering what we need, perhaps we have the wrong vendor?
Sales people and sales support people are not all living high on big salaries. In fact, in industrial (B2B) sales most people work on commission. When they invest a lot of time on a project that does not develop, their compensation is zero. That is unfair under any circumstances, here or abroad.
We all know pendulums tend to swing too far in any one direction before seeking center and there is no doubt this is an employer’s market. Yet we all have to balance good business sense with fairness and make sure we are not underpaying for the people we hope will stay with us long after the employment market goes in the opposite direction.
One area where I think we can all especially get in trouble is that of utilizing interns. I do think it is ironic that companies, who vehemently oppose unfair compensation in other countries, do not hesitate to have interns work here for free. Yes, I understand and even agree that a position can be great experience, training, exposure, look great on a resume’, etc, but are we also utilizing their time and talent in ways that benefit us and our bottom line more than it benefits them? Usually intern turnover is a good indicator.
No one I know will argue in favor of isolationism when it is so obvious most of our problems including the economy and the environment are global. Perhaps though, fair trade, much like charity, should begin at home?
Dennis writes in the area of sustainable packaging with his work appearing in numerous blogs and magazines, including his own blog, Inside Sustainable Packaging. Dennis and his company provide custom eco friendly packaging solutions through Salazar Packaging and stock green packaging products via GlobeGuardProducts, which is the first internet store featuring all eco-friendly packaging supplies. Recently Dennis also made news by launching GreenPackagingGroup, which is a B2B packaging blog and directory for eco-minded buyers. He is president and co-founder of Salazar Packaging.