The impact of business on poverty and fairness
In March I went to the Faith in Business conference in Ridley Hall knowing full well I would meet extraordinary businesspeople; businessmen and women who are changing the world. I was not disappointed to hear a host of conference speakers tell us about their journeys to success and their struggles. These were businesspeople who were remarkably good at, firstly, running businesses and, secondly, using ethical principles as the foundation of their businesses. For example, they had ethical principles in their mission statements and corporate motto, they had fair and kind policies for employees, they created nurturing office cultures and they stuck with integrity in all business dealings, even if it meant losing some business.
I would like to share briefly about the 2 organisations that blew my mind away:
Richard Leftley left a very successful career in the City with the idea that something had to be done to protect poor people in developing countries. He noticed that when the poor get ill, they immediately lose their little income and it pushes them further into poverty. His idea was that if they could be insured, they would be protected. How do you insure 4 billion people, many of whom live in rural, unaccessible areas? How do you fund such a thing? Richard came up with lots of innovative solutions. It wasn’t always easy to break down barriers, to earn trust, to get funding. To cut a long story short, it has taken Richard 15 years of sheer determination, blood, sweat and tears to get to this point of success. He and his family have made tremendous sacrifices along the way. Today his international organisation insures just under 55 million people across the world with offices in Asia & Africa. They have removed many barriers that stop the poor from being insured. They have created an innovative, low barrier way to insure the poor using digitalised technology and to pay out claims with minimal administration and burden on the policy holder. They are helping the poor through business. His social impact on the world is simply unmeasurable.
For more details, look at https://microensure.com/
2. Fairbanking Foundation
We’ve all witnessed the devastating effects on the global economy of the greed of our money markets. Dodgy lending practices, unfair bank charges, complicated financial products, speculative financial trading and bank collapses needing government bailouts. It is safe to say that our banking industry needs a clean up. The regulator, the Financial Services Authority, was insufficient to avoid our 2008 financial crash. Who knows if the Financial Conduct Authority will be any better? Against this backdrop, emerges the Fairbanking Foundation, founded by Anthony Elliott OBE.
Anthony left a successful banking career in the City and is spearheading this Foundation to clean up the industry. The Foundation reviews & reports on financial products and banking practices, with a view to changing bad ones into fair ones that benefit the consumer. He’s introduced the Fairbanking Mark for products that meet these higher ethical standards. He battles with banks and the entire industry to get them to change. This is a long and windy road and it takes a special person to journey down it. Only a handful of financial products have passed the Fairbanking Foundation standards to be certified with the Fairbanking Mark. I certainly hope that more banks will get on board with this. Perhaps as customer awareness of the Fairbanking Mark grows, so will the banking industry’s appetite to change. Anthony is certainly making this world a fairer place for all.
For more information see http://fairbanking.org.uk
Capitalism has almost become a dirty word, implying the relentless pursuit of profit to the exploitation of people, nature and everything else. In its original pure meaning, it just simply means a free market where the forces of the market (ie. supply and demand) find a balance and determine things like price. It’s the misuse of the system or the greed of the users that has corrupted capitalism. It is absolutely refreshing to see businesspeople inject integrity and ethics into commerce to put the morals back into the free market. Both MicroEnsure and the Fairbanking Foundation are good examples of how businesspeople can make a tremendous positive social impact on the world. I hope we see more pioneering movements like this.
Managing Director, Little Trove
Saving Bees in Indonesia
For a few months now, Little Trove has been the appointed distributor of Natural Light Candles, a wonderful international brand of beeswax candles. Some of you may have followed my travels there in 2013 when I visited the production facility and met the “boss” Kelly Marciano.
Natural Light Candle specialises in beeswax candles, which obviously relies on the supply of wax from our dear bees. Many will be aware that in the UK, bee populations are in decline and certainly many organisations are involved in bee conservation work. Pesticides are largely to blame and at least 2 species of bees are extinct in the UK according to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (http://bumblebeeconservation.org/about-bees/why-bees-need-help/).
The global picture is largely similar. Kelly Marciano from Natural Light Candle Company has this to say about bees:
“They work seven days a week. They travel up to five miles to and from hundreds of ‘workstations’ making up to 40 trips a day. These non-paid workers are responsible for providing one third of your food and they are completely oblivious to the millions of dollars of agricultural services they perform each year. Bees! Saving the Bees in Indonesia Yes, one third of the worlds food depends on BEES. If bees disappear, so will many of our fruit and vegetables, including: apples, avocados, cherries, cashews, coffee (get out!), broccoli, lemons, berries….and the list goes on. As you may have heard from many sources by now, there has been a world-wide decline in the bee population the last few years. Since 2006 beekeepers in the USA, Europe, and Australia have been reporting that their honeybee populations have been dying off at increasingly rapid rates. In 2015 alone, the USA lost one third of its bee population! Australia and Europe are also experiencing similar losses. The decline is due to aggressive agricultural practices, use of pesticides, and climate change, as well as bee mites and diseases. A recent report published by the UN has acknowledged that loss of pollinators is a threat to food supplies world-wide. It stressed the importance of protecting pollinators to ensure stable fruit and vegetable output as a key factor in feeding the world’s growing population in coming decades. While the USA, Europe, and Australia have, for years, been collecting local data on bee species, their numbers and health, there are many ‘data gaps’, in other countries, especially in Asia.”(http://naturallightcandleco.com/category/save-the-bees/)
The gap in data, knowledge and bee conservation work in Asia has prompted Natural Light Candle to start a grassroots initiative called Queen Bees for Sustainability to research honey bees and help save them in South East Asia.
Kelly goes on to explain that “in Indonesia the bee population has been drastically affected by the practice of slash and burn agriculture. As a result, vast areas of the rain forest have been destroyed. The majority of Indonesia’s honey and bee-keeping activities are in the forest.
(Photo courtesy of Natural Light Candle Company)
The fabled wild honey hunters of Borneo, Sumbawa, and many other islands have for decades and perhaps even hundreds of years lived in harmony with the forest. These farmers collect wild honey in a sustainable way and with no impact to the forest and it’s inhabitants. Orangutans, elephants, the rhino, the slow loris, and bees…are all native to these forests and are under serious threat.”
What’s queen bees for sustainability about?
Natural Light Candle Company’s mission is to support sustainable beekeeping within Indonesia, as part of the global initiative to save bees for the greater good of conserving honey and increasing food security. The initiative will take on research, collate data and work with stakeholders like beekeepers, honey collectors, and farmers living in bee populated areas across the Indonesian archipelago.
Specifically, they will help farmers in Indonesia continue to grow their beekeeping activities in a sustainable and economical way to benefit their families, the farming community, and the honey and wax industry, as well as, having a positive impact on Indonesia’s natural environment and food resources. The initial focus will be on honey producing Indonesian provinces of Kalimantan, Sumatra, Sumbawa, Flores, Timor, and Bali. This is all part of the global picture of conserving bees.
TO SUPPORT THE QUEEN BEES FOR SUSTAINABILITY INITIATIVE, LITTLE TROVE WILL DONATE 2% OF ALL SALES OF NATURAL LIGHT CANDLES TO THE INITIATIVE.
TO FIND OUT MORE, PLEASE CONTACT RAMONA.HIRSCHI@LITTLETROVE.COM
What are fair trade businesses to do in Brexit Britain
We live in a post-referendum, pre-Brexit Britain. Businesses like mine are already feeling the economic impact of the vote, just like other fair trade businesses in the UK. As business owners, how do we steer through these unchartered waters?
I’d like to share some observations gained from studying law & economics and listening to many economists in the last month. I don’t have all the answers but what’s important is that business owners take the time to study the economic facts and not be swayed by sensationalists media or personal sentiment.
How Art 50 works
Article 50, The Lisbon Treaty is a one-way street. Once the UK informs the European Council of its intention to leave, it will have 2 years to agree the Withdrawal Agreement. This Withdrawal Agreement has to deal with topics like fisheries, health, human rights, trade, climate change, social security, justice and home affairs, immigration, international development, employment etc. Basically all areas where EU law & policy apply and how we will interact with the EU on these matters in the future. That is a mighty agenda.
It’s important to understand that a trade deal for access to the single market IS UNLIKELY to be agreed at this stage. Experts are expecting that trade deals will be negotiated separately, simply because trade deals typically take 5 – 10 years to be agreed and there’s so much unpicking of EU laws to be done and tonnes of new UK laws to be made to fill the holes, that 2 years will be insufficient to wrap it all up.
Add to that the need to refer to Parliament for approval. The recent High Court ruling affirms the sovereignty of Parliament. Government cannot pull the UK out of the EU (thereby removing rights we have been given by Parliament) without Parliament first approving it. It therefore follows that if a trade deal removes rights given by Parliament, that Parliament will need to approve that trade deal. It’s unlikely all this can be done within the Article 50 time-frame.
Two years after Article 50 is triggered, our Withdrawal Agreement proposal will either be accepted (by a qualified majority of the Member States) or rejected. If rejected, we cannot cancel our notification and withdraw our withdrawal. We leave with nothing. Membership will cease 2 years after the Art 50 notification unless every single one of the Member States decides to be gracious and extends our time period. International relations is about reciprocity. Have we behaved in a gracious manner towards our EU partners? The EU has enough business to deal with than be wrapped up in the UK’s desire to leave. They will want finality to the withdrawal process. There is a grave danger that Britain will exit with nothing and will have to negotiate a trade deal with the EU as an outsider. Time span 5 – 10 years.
For as long as the trade deals are not concluded, there will be macro-economic uncertainty. Expect economic uncertainty for up to 10 years and plan accordingly for your business. I would like to highlight three issues since the vote:
1. Fall in Sterling Pound
Markets react quickly to political decisions. Sterling Pound has fallen to a rate that’s affecting all our import costs. A fall of 10 – 20% is eating up most of our margins. Forecasters can’t agree on how much the Pound will recover. All we can do as businesses is to expect that exchange rates will remain unstable during economic uncertainty (which may last 5 – 10 years), and take some action:
a. Absorb the higher costs, sacrifice profits. I know that fair trade businesses have smaller margins than conventional businesses (because of the higher cost of fair trade production) and many will not be able to absorb the higher costs;
b. Increase prices. Maybe customers will pay for more the goods. With fair trade, many people already complain that goods are expensive. Increasing prices is the last thing we’d want to do but perhaps there is no choice;
c. Discuss with your producers to see if they could make cost-savings and reduce your purchase price. Fair trade businesses must be careful not to squeeze the producers and go against the basic principles of fair price;
d. Ask your producers to quote in Sterling Pound and fix that price for as long as you can. If the Pound falls further, the producer will gain more but if the Pound strengthens the producer will lose out on exchange. Again beware of short-changing the producers;
e. Forward-buy currency. When Pound is falling, it’s a good idea to buy foreign currency in advance to remove some purchase price fluctuations;
f. Look at export markets for your goods. Fall in Pound makes your goods cheaper to overseas buyers. Bear in mind though that exporting is not for the faint-hearted. You will have some barriers to export such as lack of knowledge of export procedures, language barriers, cultural differences, costs of market visits and marketing in the target export market, cost of websites & product labelling in other languages, cost of product modification, just to name a few. More help on exporting can be found at the Department for International Trade (formerly UKTI) or at your local Chambers of Commerce.
2. Inflationary pressures
A weaker Pound has brought about a rise in costs and rising prices. Poor Marmite lovers! The Bank of England has traditionally used interest rates as the macro-economic tool to curb inflation. Our interest rates have remained low for so many years and it will need to rise at some point. Economists think sometime in next year or two. Raising interest rates will make mortgages more expensive. Coupled with the higher costs of household bills, this will lead to a drop in disposable incomes. Wages haven’t risen significantly in recent years, so the reality is that people will be squeezed. People spend less, demand drops, if supply stays the same, price will drop. That is how interest rates control rising prices (ie. inflation).
Lower spending means less sales for businesses. Fair trade businesses are rightly worried about the impact of less spending by the public. Being involved in fair trade campaigning in Staffordshire, I know only too well that when there isn’t enough money in the pocket, no amount of enthusiasm can make someone buy fairtrade products.
What fair trade businesses can do:
a. Research the pricing of similar goods and try to keep products price-competitive;
b. Look at all business costs and processes. Could you cut your overhead or operating expenses? Could you make a process more efficient, to increase profitability?
c. Take the customer focus away from price. Add value to the customer experience so that price isn’t the determining factor;
d. Carry on promoting awareness of fair trade and its greater good.
3. Rise in xenophobia
I don’t know whether lots of people were xenophobic to begin with (and now feel justified to express themselves) or whether they became xenophobic after hearing mostly negative things about the immigration during the referendum campaign. What I know is there is a rise of nationalism in the UK, which is not uncommon during austerity times. Rise of nationalism often results in an increase in fear or intolerance of people who aren’t like oneself. Foreigners are blamed for all the bad things that happen in a country. They are taking our jobs. They are taking our housing, school places etc etc. The media has negatively portrayed EU immigration to the point that public perception bears no resemblance to reality. Take my local town Stoke-on-Trent. Only 2% of the population are EU immigrants. I wouldn’t say there is pressure on housing or school places. Yet when my friend was campaigning, she was dismayed that around 70-80% of people she spoke to had a problem with EU immigration. The 2% of EU immigrants were the cause of all their troubles!
One of my problems with nationalism and xenophobia is that it doesn’t consider us all as brothers and sisters of the human race. Whatever the colour of our skin or religious beliefs, we were all born equal. It’s the inequalities of this broken world & the action of men that make some racial groups inferior to others. Fair trade is all about helping people in developing countries. I have heard people say “why should we help people abroad when we can’t even help people here?”. If people only want to help their own kind, it will be harder to get them to support fair trade. This is worrying and I’m not sure what we can do about it, except speak up and fight it. Don’t worry about losing some friends over it. Those were probably not worth having in the first place.
There are other issues to watch out for in Brexit Britain; the level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), immigration policy and probable skill-shortages, the property market etc. I’d like to leave these issues for another day. The main point of all this is that the economy hates uncertainty. The only certainty for the next 5 – 10 years is uncertainty. Fair trade has very challenging times ahead. We must persevere for the greater good.
If you have any further thoughts or ideas on this, I would be glad to hear it. Just contact me on email@example.com, comment here or via our social media channels.
Social entrepreneur, solicitor
Yes, candles are really popular! Can you spot the difference between a natural soy candle and a synthetic paraffin one?
Here’s why we think it’s important to know the difference.
1. Natural soy waxes do not release chemicals into the air. Most “high street” candles use paraffin wax. Paraffin is derived from petroleum, coal or oil shale. To get the petroleum sludge into a pearly white paraffin wax, lots of bleaching and chemical stuff is added to it. So when a paraffin candle is burnt in a home, toxic chemicals are released into the air. Family and pets breathe in these toxic chemicals. I don’t mean to scare you but some of these toxins are cancer-causing toxins.
2. Natural soy waxes burn longer, so offer better value for money. The same goes for natural bath products. They may be more expensive to buy but you get longer use out of them. In the end, they may not be more expensive after all.
3. Soy wax is biodegradable.The disposal of natural waxes is less harmful to the environment. Things like soy beans are renewable sources. Farmers can grow and grow soy beans to replace the ones harvested. More soy wax can then be made. Not so with paraffin products. Petroleum is a finite resource. It takes millions of years for our Earth to produce petroleum. Our environment is a precious thing that must be preserved for future generations, so we should think about how the products we buy have been made.
4. And finally on a lighter note, natural candles just look better! Whether soy or beeswax …. they just look creamier and wholesome!
Thank you for reading. If you’d like more information, please contact me.
Ramona Hirschi, Little Trove founder.
Exporting consultancy services and creating social value
A case study
In 2013, I travelled to India in search of suppliers of cotton textiles. I was introduced to a group of weavers at a leprosy colony, mostly from the poor lower castes of Indian society. The women weavers were highly skilled in weaving but the group lacked infrastructure, finances & business know-how on how to grow their micro-business. As a business committed to fair trade principles, specifically the one about capacity building, I decided to get involved. In 2014, Little Trove started an international trade relationship with this group, by importing some woven bags. The weavers used their payment to buy food for their households and keep some children in school.
In 2015, I travelled again to India to work with the weavers on colour choices and designs. This was effectively an export of design advice services. Having never left their village before, all the weavers had never seen the inside of a Western home. I spent a couple of days showing them photos of Western home interiors (despite the patchy internet connection) and explaining to them how cream or beige were in fact colours! Much to their shock!! Fortunately, I gained their trust, so they took my word for it and weaved bags in more toned-down colours; colour combinations that were more appealing to the Western market.
On the left (below) were the original colours and on the right were the new colours.
The new collection of bags was then imported and launched at Autumn Fair 2015, again with the payment for bags used to improve the community at the leprosy colony. These bags sold out quicker than the earlier batches.
It became apparent that the weavers needed business start-up help and were unable to access that in India. With the support of family & friends, Little Trove raised enough funds to finance a 2 week business training session for the manager of the weaving unit. Due to caste issues in India, Little Trove flew the manager (Solomon) to the UK for the training. For 2 weeks, Solomon stayed with me and I trained him on all aspects of business: administration, finance, customer relations, design and cultural differences.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing. Life here is so different from what he’s used to. Every day I had to remind him to put his seatbelt on in the car. Within 3 days, he asked if we had flip flops (in September!) because he could no longer tolerate having shoes on! Within two hours of training, Solomon could no longer stay indoors. He needed to stand outside the house just gawking at the neighbours! In his village, the men normally congregate outside houses chatting for hours! There were some harrowing moments too, like when I was speeding down the motorway at about 70mph and asked him to wind up the rear window. Next thing I knew, my rear door was wide open on the motorway and Solomon was tangled up trying to shut it from the inside. He only managed to stick his body out the front window and slam it shut from the outside! A lesson in international development learnt here was that you can take a boy out of the village but you can’t take the village out of the boy!
Solomon then returned to India with his new-found knowledge and carried on with his plans to build a small workshop at the colony. The workshop is almost finished and will be used to give employment and income to 8 – 12 women. By exporting business advice services, Little Trove was able to assist a micro-business grow to the next level as well create social value for the families at the colony.
Little Trove also exports consultancy services to other overseas producers and handicraft groups that contact it for advice. Funded by private donors, Little Trove has given consultancy advice on handicraft designs, pricing, market entry to the UK & fair trade compliance to groups such as jewellery artisans in Burkina Faso, an anti-human trafficking group in South Africa and a handicraft workshop assisting AIDs victims in India. Exporting consulting services enables disadvantaged producers to take part in international trade and be part of this global economy.
Being based in Staffordshire isn’t the obvious place for carrying out international development work. There would be more opportunities in London or Geneva but we have to make the best of any location we find ourselves in. I hope in my small way I can help developing world artisans be part of the global economy. From Staffordshire we are still able to create social value for communities halfway round the world.
Respect for the Environment
Fair Trade Principle No 10.
We are in the age of ever-increasing environmental awareness. Environmental awareness means to understand the fragile state of the environment and to understand how important it is to protect it. By being environmentally aware, we will find ways to be good stewards of the world’s finite resources and protect these for future generations.
According to Planet Earth Herald these are the 10 most pressing environmental problems:
2. Climate Change
3. Loss of biodiversity
4. Phosphorus and nitrogen cycles
5. Lack of access to clean water
6. Ocean acidification
8. Ozone layer depletion
All of these problems have been caused by us, humans, and only we can fix it. Some negative effects of our actions cannot be undone; such as extinction of certain species of flora and fauna due to deforestation or overfishing. Or even the hole in our Ozone layer caused by our use of chemical products containing CFCs. However, by being aware and taking action now, we can hopefully preserve the environment for our children.
The fair trade movement recognises the need to respect the environment. Although it is the 10th principle of fair trade, it doesn’t mean it is of least importance. Fair trade companies such as ours, take this obligation seriously. Not only do we have an Environmental Policy in place, we take practical action to ensure we are as green and eco-friendly as possible. Here are some steps you can take too:
1. Re-use all cartons, paper packaging & plastic packaging.
It takes lots of trees to produce paper and cardboard. It takes a lot of chemicals to produce plastic. Most types of plastic are not bio-degradable, meaning they are rarely consumed by bacteria and don’t decompose like most organic material. When we chuck plastic in our bins, it goes to landfill where it sits in the soil for years and years. It just doesn’t break down. Where plastic finds itself at the side of roads or the oceans, animals and fish eat them. The plastic sits in their gut or throat and stops them digesting foods. Eventually, the animals die. I have seen sickly thin cows at the side of the roads in Asia chewing on plastic bags. So by re-using our plastic bags, we stop them polluting the earth in landfill and we reduce the use of chemicals in the production of new ones.
Similarly, when we re-use cardboard and paper, we reduce the need for energy used in producing new ones, reduce the need to cut down new trees, reduce deforestation and the destruction of natural habitats and water catchment areas. If you run commercial premises, it will also cut down your waste collection charges. At our warehouse, we use all inbound carton, plastic and paper when packing outgoing parcels. Paper gets shredded in-house, to be used as padding in our parcels. Cartons are re-used as is and when running low, more cartons are donated to us from local businesses.
2. RECYCLE, RECYCLE, RECYCLE
Whatever cannot be re-used, should be recycled in the appropriate manner. At home, we have various coloured bins supplied by our local authority. It’s amazing how many people in England find it “too much hassle” to recycle or believe that “it’s all going to the same place anyway”. You can check at a local recycling centre or call your Council to verify that it’s all being recycled appropriately. When people understand how important it is to look after the environment, they will find a way to overcome any hassle.
At our warehouse, we have recycling bins for this purpose. However, very little goes into the bins once we re-use most materials.
3. Conserve energy
The energy industry is a very polluting industry. According to Energy UK, most of the UK’s electricity is produced by burning fossil fuels, in the form of natural gas (30% in 2015) and coal (23%). Natural gas and coal extraction, like most mining activities, is hugely polluting. Vast amounts of water and chemicals are used in the mining process. Further, using coal to produce electricity produces higher amounts of carbon emissions than any other form of electricity generation. Carbon emissions means the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) released into the air. CO2 is a greenhouse gas. The rising levels of greenhouse gases by human activity is the main cause of climate change and global warming. Climate change leads to rising temperatures, extreme weather conditions, altered habitats, water scarcity and health issues (http://www.environmentlaw.org.uk/).
So we should try to reduce our use of energy AND our reliance on fossil fuels.
At home and at the warehouse, we make sure all lights and electrical items are off when not in use. “Standby” mode is no good. They have to be switched off at the plug. Heating is regulated with the use of thermostats to ensure heating is on for a few hours in the day only when people will be around. There’s no need to heat an empty house. It’s vital to ensure our house/premises is insulated to prevent loss of heat: loft insulation, cavity wall insulation, double-glazed windows etc.
Where possible, using renewable energy is the way forward: solar panels, wind-turbines, ground source pumps and so on. It’s a shame that the UK government has reduced the feed in tariff over the years (ie. the payment you get when generating your own energy and sending the surplus to the National Grid). Whilst the upfront costs of solar panels has dropped, the drop in feed in tariffs means it will take longer (up to 20 – 25 years) to repay the cost of the solar panels. We’ve looked into installing solar panels at home but since we don’t tend to stay in a house more than 5 years, it’s difficult to commit long-term to solar panels. I hope the government and us as a nation will see renewable energy as the way of the future and invest more in it.
4. Reduce use of chemicals in Products
As a business, we choose to make products that use more natural fibres and materials. Take our candles for example. We choose to make soy/beeswax candles. Despite it being harder and more expensive to make the candles, we choose to use natural waxes. Using paraffin (a petroleum based wax) would make life easier because it holds scent and form more easily than soy wax. But paraffin wax releases toxic fumes into your home, your lungs and the atmosphere.
Businesses make what consumers want. As consumers, we should be more aware of the materials and production processes behind the products we buy and bring to our homes. We should demand for more environmentally-sound products, and then businesses will follow. It’s a sad reality that it’s the poor in developing countries that bear the brunt of our Western consumerism. Countries like Bangladesh, China, India manufacture most of our products, which means they have all of the manufacturing waste of our products: chemical dyes washing into water sources, chemicals ingested into the worker’s bodies from inadequate protective clothing, waste materials going to landfill, higher use of energy in factories, higher pollution and higher greenhouse gas emissions into their atmospheres.
We can all take the small steps mentioned above to help the environment. I welcome any suggestions or examples of how you help the environment.
In my next blog post, I would like to show you how to assess your carbon footprint. In layman’s terms, you will see how your day-today activities translate into the greenhouse gases being released into the air and what you can do to offset it.
Founder, Little Trove
Barcelona! Experience bohemian chic in the Garcia quarter
Back to Olokuti and why they are successful:
Announcing our move
We are moving! We have been at our little warehouse in Staffordshire for 2 and half years. The apprentices and myself have been keeping the warehouse running, keeping stock there and processing orders. It has been a freeeeeezing few months. Our little office is heated (where I hide out in Uggs and woolies), leaving poor Sam to venture out in the cold to pack!
As you know we are a family business, started by us the Hirschis. Raphael (the husband) and the children get roped in to help out with things like labelling, stock check, trade show set up etc. As we say there’s no child slave labour in fair trade, except our own children! Junior Hirschi has been offered a place at a really really good school in Shropshire, and so the Hirschi family is uprooting from Staffordshire and moving to Shropshire. So must Little Trove!
We haven’t got a fixed date for our move, as all this depends on the Hirschi house sale, so to start our moving process, we are offering 30% off all orders for trade customers. That is existing customers. If you are already our customer, you will receive 30% off your next order by quoting “trade30″. Use this coupon code when ordering online on this website.
Fair Trade Principles: No 3. Fair Trading Practices
The third principle that fair trade companies follow is about implementing fair trade practices with suppliers and customers.
1. Not maximising profits at the producer’s expense
We have to take the social, economic and environmental well-being of our marginalized small producers into account in our dealing and not maximize profit at the expense of our producers. We have all heard about the problem with milk producers or farmers in the UK who are squeezed to sell their produce at less than cost price to some supermarkets. Public outrage ensued. People went to the defence of the farmers because it was grossly unfair for a producer to make a loss when the next person in the supply chain is making big profits. Producers in far away countries often suffer this fate. Fair trade can make an impact and protect the producers. Fair trading practices means the buyer should pay a fair price (the 4th principle of fair trade) because that is better for the producer’s economic and social well-being. The flipside of this means that it is very difficult to deliver cheap or bargain products for customers.
2. Delivering on contracts
Fair trade organisations must be responsible and professional in meeting our commitments in a timely manner, such as respecting contracts and delivering products on time and to the desired quality and specifications. I have to confess that this is very difficult for a fair trade importer to do. Due to the nature of dealing with underprivileged and underdeveloped producers as well as broken infrastructure, inequalities and corruption in producer countries, it is extremely difficult to get quality and timely production and to deliver on time, every time, to the customer. There will be times when goods are delayed or messed up. Despite best efforts, things will go wrong. Ask any fair trade importer.
3. Advance payments to suppliers
The next aspect of fair trading practices involves payment. Recognizing the financial disadvantages producers face, we must ensure orders are paid on receipt of documents. For handicraft items, an interest free pre-payment of at least 50 % should made on request. Did you know that? Little Trove pays 50% to 100% advances to our producers upon making an order. 3 months later, the goods are ready. 1 month later it arrives in the UK. Then out to the shops. Then retailers want 30 days credit. And then they do not pay on time. The seller has to spend more time and money chasing payment. So by this stage it will be some 6 – 7 months since we last saw our money (assuming the goods sold straightaway). Unless it’s raining money, everyone should appreciate the tremendous financial pressures a fair trade importer faces. I would also boldly say that any retailer who claims they support fair trade is signing up to this principle and should therefore pay upfront for the goods.
4. Fair resolution of supply problems
Buyers must consult with suppliers before canceling or rejecting orders. Where orders are cancelled through no fault of producers or suppliers, adequate compensation is guaranteed for work already done. Little Trove has never cancelled an order with a supplier, even when we’ve regretted our ordering or sales have reduced drastically for those products. It just didn’t seem fair, so we’ve honoured those contracts.
Also, suppliers and producers must consult with buyers if there is a problem with delivery, and ensure compensation is provided when delivered quantities and qualities do not match those invoiced. We have often encountered problems with consignments from India such as production batches not matching samples, missing labels, spelling errors on labels, short quantity and wrong colours. Even with well-established WFTO Indian producers. We’ve never received compensation for those errors. Instead we have spent extra unpaid hours fixing the problem in the UK. I have many friends to thank for helping me.
5. Long term relationships
Fair trade organisations must strive to maintain long term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect. Every year, we use the same artisans to produce new lines for us, rather than shopping around to change producers.
We must maintain effective communication with our trading partners. This is difficult when dealing with rural places with rural producers who don’t speak English. I (Ramona) have to invent ways to communicate with the different producers in a way that each of them understands. Reverse psychology with one proud producer so he thinks it’s his idea, buttering up another so he doesn’t mind a woman giving him instructions, speaking Indonesian to our Balinese producer and letting the producers use Facebook and Whatsapp to communicate easily from their phones. With world time differences, I have to accommodate phone messages at strange hours.
6. No unfair competition
Fair trade companies should work together to increase the volume of trade and income to producers. We should avoid unfair competition like for example, underpricing to drive out competitors. Furthermore, we must avoid duplicating the designs of patterns of other organisations without permission. This would be intellectual property infringement but many producers don’t realise this. In India, I see it happen all the time. When producers lack innovation skills, they copy designs. I was faced with that once. I put my lawyer hat on and lectured the producer on intellectual property rights!
Founder & Managing Director
Last month, I started a series called “The Heartbeat of Fair Trade” to expose the real workings of a fair trade organisation. A vast majority of people in the UK have heard of fair trade but really how many understand the 10 aspects of it? Certainly from my own experience people tend to focus on one or two principles such as “fair price” or “child labour”. Fair trade is much more than that. In fact writing this article itself shows our commitment to the second principle of fair trade; transparency and accountability.
Principle Two: Transparency and Accountability
The WFTO say this: “The organization is transparent in its management and commercial relations. It is accountable to all its stakeholders and respects the sensitivity and confidentiality of commercial information supplied. The organization finds appropriate, participatory ways to involve employees, members and producers in its decision-making processes. It ensures that relevant information is provided to all its trading partners. The communication channels are good and open at all levels of the supply chain”. Source: http://wfto.com/fair-trade/10-principles-fair-trade
As a fair trade organisation, Little Trove has clear policies, employee handbooks, operations manuals and staff meetings where staff are fully informed of management procedures. Being a small company, staff are constantly involved in the decision making on products, design and anything else that affects their work and our business.
In relation to our producers, we communicate clearly with them, setting down expectations, keeping in regular contact, keeping lines of communication clear so that any problems or challenges can be overcome together, visiting groups on the ground to show them other products we promote, keeping them informed of our marketing plan to promote their goods (such as which trade shows) and answering any questions they have.
We also encourage all our producers to be transparent and accountable too. We ask all of them to provide us with information and photographs regarding their workers, working conditions, wages, any events or training they hold for employees, any environmentally-friendly initiatives they carry out as well as any employee participation initiatives or profit sharing they do. We cannot expect that all producer groups are aware of all aspects of fair trade or that they are 100% compliant with all principles. By being transparent about what’s expected, we aim to move the producer groups towards greater transparency too.
I feel the greatest transparency that fair trade organisations offer is the free provision of supplier information. By this I mean providing information on their producer groups and relevant photographs to any stakeholder or customer. Many companies, like us, provide “producer stories” on the back of labels, on packaging, in our brochures and even on point of sale posters.
Sceptics might say this is all about clever marketing. Clever marketing to get customers to buy more. Sure, it has that purpose. Connecting buyer with the producer story makes buying the product more compelling. But the amount of time I spend collecting this information, designing labels, making posters, answering customers’ questions about producers, producing blogs or emails about the producers outweighs any financial return. More than half our customers are not fair trade shops. They aren’t expecting or wanting all this information. They buy the product because it’s nice and the mere fact that a fair trade wholesaler is selling them is enough for them. So why go to all this trouble? Because it keeps us transparent and accountable.
Being transparent and accountable is not the usual way of doing business in Asia or Africa. There is secrecy at all levels. You will find that many Asian and African countries are highly corrupt. They have mega rich politicians and businessmen. Outside their affluent neighbourhoods, you’ll find the dirt poor. The wealth isn’t evenly distributed. What’s worse is that there isn’t even the appetite to distribute it evenly. The rich get richer and don’t seem bothered about the poor in their countries.
Transparency International produces a “Corruption Perception Index” that attempts to classify 183 countries according to levels of corruption. Looking at the countries Little Trove works in: India ranks 95th, Indonesia 100th, South Africa 64th and Burundi 172nd! (Source: http://www.transparency.org/cpi2011/results)
Transparency International also report:
“More than 40 percent of employees at board and senior manager level said that sales or cost numbers had been manipulated by their company. This included reporting revenue early to meet short-term financial targets, under-reporting costs to meet budget targets, and requiring customers to buy unnecessary stock to meet sales targets.”
“Over 12 months, one in four people paid a bribe when they came into contact with one of nine institutions and services, from health to education to tax authorities.”
Bribery and corruption is a common problem. Fair trade organisations that work in that environment are going against the grain by staying on the straight and narrow. Being transparent reduces levels of corruption. I will certainly not pay any bribes. I was once asked by an Indonesian producer whether I wanted 3 invoices; one for customs under-declaring the goods, one for the insurers over-declaring the goods and a third for us to use correctly listing the products. My answer was quite simple: No!
Founder, Little Trove
I recently gave a talk at a conference in Jersey, Channel Islands about how current trade favours certain countries and leaves the poor marginalised. I showed how trade trends can be changed if people and businesses thought and acted differently towards all the resources this world has to offer.
I naturally offered the ten principles of fair trade as the business model that can bring about that change. The fair trade principles seek to bring the people in the fringes back in the fold. We hear about the fair trade principles all the time but do we really understand them? Do we understand what work fair trade organisations do to follow these principles?
I would like to take you through a series I’m calling “The Heartbeat of Fair Trade”. I will try to show you what goes on behind each of the fair trade principles, starting with principle 1.
Principle 1 : Creating opportunities for disadvantaged groups in the developing world
Who are the UK’s favourite trading partners?
Because of the freedom of movement of goods within the European Union, you will expect that a lot of intra-European trade is done. The statistics above show that we trade most with Germany, France, Netherlands etc. Since our biggest imports are road vehicles, it’s understandable that Germany and France rank highly. We love our BMWs, Audis, Mercs, Peugeots, Renaults, don’t we?
Outside the EU, our biggest trading partners are the USA and China, by a large margin. Just looking at the product labels on the goods in our high street store, it’s clear that businesses like trading with China.
There are several reasons why most of our imports come from the same countries. Let’s take China as an example. The costs are cheaper than manufacturing here in the UK. What about manufacturing costs in less developed countries like India or Indonesia? China is still cheaper because they have achieved such high volumes that economies of scale are achieved. Economies of scale mean as you scale up, you reach point where it’s more efficient to produce and costs per unit are lower.
Another reason why businesses are happy trading along established routes is because the routes are familiar and secure. The supply is consistent. The supply chain is tried and tested. There are less nasty surprises along the way. There’s a system for designing goods for the UK, manufacturing standards are in place, quality control has been perfected and shipping runs like clockwork.
There is a strong business case for trading with our favourite partners. It makes complete sense. Until you think about the consequences on the rest of the world. Think about all the other businesses and producers in less developed countries. What about their skills? Are they not worthy of being included in global trade? Are villagers in Madagascar who make lovely bags not worthy of exporting their goods? Is a community in a leprosy colony to be left unemployed because their only skill is in weaving and they haven’t got a factory building?
If you put yourself in the shoes of the poor in under-developed or developing countries, you will see that they do not have a lot of choice. If they can make some products, they don’t tend to have a strong local economy in which to sell those goods for income. They need to participate in a global economy and tap into the riches of other countries. If they don’t, they will remain poor, living hand to mouth or dying of poverty.
SO WE HAVE A PROBLEM. THE PROBLEM IS THE POOR PRODUCERS NEED TO GET INTO GLOBAL TRADE BUT TRADE LEFT ON ITS OWN LIKES TO TRADE WITH MORE INDUSTRIALISED COUNTRIES.
One way forward to bridge the gap is for us to create opportunities for disadvantaged groups in the developing world. Fair trade principle 1.
Simply put, we should create trade opportunities with people who are otherwise overlooked. We should go to rural parts of the world and help disadvantaged producer groups access the world market. We should look to import goods from a wide variety of communities.
This is what Little Trove and other fair trade companies are doing. I travel to remote parts of India and Indonesia to look for communities that need income. If they can make some products that have potential, I will help them with design ideas, make modifications to existing products and give them whatever necessary advice to get good quality products to import to the UK. The goods are then sent to our trade customers who sell to the public. When our trade customers re-order goods, more orders and monies are sent to the producers. The producers can increase production, increase the number of people working and ultimately improve their lives.
Sure, it’s tough to have to do “extra” work helping people develop products. Sure it takes longer to develop items. But it’s the only way that people on the fringes can be brought into the global economy. Trade left on its own will not naturally gravitate towards these rural groups. Businesses have to consciously decide to do it despite the tougher challenges and higher costs. I believe strongly we cannot settle for a low cost economy. We must recognise that our fellow human beings in many parts of the world make products that will enhance our lives. We must create economic opportunities for the disadvantaged.
Owner, Founder, Managing Director
As part of my travels abroad to find products, we meet amazing and beautiful women from different walks of life. For this International Women’s Day on March 8th, we want to acknowledge all these women, especially the women from underprivileged backgrounds.
I have met women suffering domestic violence, women with HIV, women from leprosy-stricken families, abandoned women, women who were sold as child brides, women who have fought and survived cancer, trafficked women, single mothers and slum women, just to name a few. Each of them has a story to tell. Many of them are bettering their lives with the help of skills training and employment opportunities created by social enterprises, charities or NGOs.
Here are some photos taken during my trip to India in the last 2 weeks:
Above: Women at My Choices centre in Golconda, Hyderabad, India, many of whom are victims of domestic abuse. Here being offered training in sewing, colours, patterns to produce fabric products for sale.
A slum woman living in the slums across the Chennai train station. Thanks to the SPEED trust, she is able to weave baskets to earn a living.
Ruby (right) was married off to her uncle at age 14 yrs in the Hyderabad area of India. He beat her repeatedly and finally abandoned her and their 2 small children when she was 17 yrs old. Ruby has worked hard to pick herself up and learn as much sewing skills as she can from Melanie (left). Today at age 30 she is a supervisor training other women at Tabby’s Workshop in India. We are working with Tabby’s on new products for 2016.
Melanie Hutchinson (left) who has dedicated the last 10 years of her life in Hyderabad training women.
Above: Tabby’s workshop helping give employment to women afflicted with HIV
Village Hand weavers at Bethany Leprosy Colony. I have great privilege in living and working with them on bag designs.
Above: Vegetable lady at Bethany leprosy colony
Above: Road sweeper in Chennai
There are so many issues relating to women in many countries; gender discrimination, lack of education, lack of access to healthcare etc that one really does not know where to start. All we can do as individuals is help where we can, one person at a time.
I’m no expert on women’s issues but what I can do with Little Trove is create work and income for women involved in handicrafts; by importing and distributing their handiwork and sending them more orders, for a stable livelihood.
Founder, Little Trove
Did you know that South Africa is one of the many countries globally that is a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking? With 27 million people estimated to be in modern day slavery today, more than 50% of these victims are from Africa. Not only is this statistic a harsh reality, 80% of these victims are girls aged between 5 to 15 years of age. As a mother, this statistic shocked me and it should certainly shock you.
MOST of these victims will live and die in the sex trade, unless they are RESCUED…
I know a guy called Phil Bowyer, who left my church 7 years ago to work in South Africa. In 2013, he returned to my church in Stoke on Trent to talk about some amazing people he had met who were campaigning against human trafficking and who had managed to get a little “production unit” going making jewellery in Durban. It started with a few people with a passion for the issue. Then came someone to do the social work and medical care. Then came someone else who gave them space for a workshop. The result of all these people connecting up was a working production unit of survivors of human trafficking working together to make jewellery from fallen bark. They were selling their small range of jewellery in South Africa. The thing is, for the women to be truly free from their life of prostitution and slavery, they needed an alternative source of income. Social and medical care is absolutely vital but it can only take them so far. They need money to live, plain and simple.
Phil wondered who might be the next piece of the story. I instinctively knew that would be us; Little Trove. Phil had no idea I ran this fair trade business. He thought I was still a lawyer!
The timing was not right though. We weren’t wholesaling our stock, so I wasn’t sure how much we could help. However in 2014, as we expanded into wholesale I decided it was time to help them. By “them”, I mean the survivors of human trafficking and the people behind the project; the Red Light Initiative.
In November 2014, Red Light was more than happy to appoint Little Trove as their exclusive distributors in the UK, to help expand their sales and open up opportunities for more women to be “rescued” and involved in the jewellery making.
Red Light’s project is called the Create Freedom Project and its main aim is to empower women at risk and survivors to live sustainable lives and to see restoration of dignity and destiny. Red Light teaches sustainable skills and empowers women individually through entrepreneurship and other training. While Red Light do the medical and social work, Little Trove works on importing their handicrafts to generate much needed sales income for the trafficking survivors. We’ve also worked with Red Light to make improvements to their products. We hope to work with them to build more capacity and expand their product offering. The more products we can distribute to shops or sell to the public, the more orders we can put through to the project. The more orders they have, the more workers they will need.
I’m excited that this weekend 11 January 2015 is the launch of this range at our first trade show of 2015; Giving & Living Fair, Exeter. I cannot wait to see the response to the project. All products are available to buy here: http://www.littletrove.com/product-category/fashion/jewellery/
I’m also making arrangements to go to Durban in June 2015 to visit these courageous women.
I hope as you read the testimony below, you will consider how you can also be a part of this story:
“One of the ladies from Red Light took me to a place where they were making jewelry and told me I could come every Monday to learn and make jewelry which Red Light would sell and pay me a salary. And that was the beginning. Red Light is helping come out of this business… Every week I go to Red Light and learn more about life and about the skills I need. My dream is to become a paramedic and Red Light is helping me find out more about that. I now have a part-time job and next year I am going to do my grade 12. I always wanted to finish school but there was nobody to help me. Now I have the help I need to change my life and give my daughter a better future.” Thandi, survivor
Come join the Little Trove movement!
It’s been a year since my (Ramona’s) visit to the Bethany Leprosy Colony in Bapatla, Andhra Pradesh, India. I went out there to meet a group of weavers. I was looking for a group who could make products that I could import and in return for an income stream.
I first arrived at Hyderabad airport and was greeted by a man called Solomon who had grown up at the colony but who was now running a little t-shirt business in Hyderabad. He let me sleep off some jet lag at his house before travelling with me on the overnight seven hour train ride from Hyderabad to Bapatla.
When I was onboard the train, I thought “what have I let myself into”. The sleeping bunks were 3 bunks on the left and 3 on the right, one on top of the other. You got to the top by climbing on top of the other beds. This was first class apparently. Let’s not even talk about the train toilet.
Upon arrival in Bapatla, we all crammed into one auto – around 6 of us and all the bags. Typical Indian style. A short journey later and we arrived at the leprosy colony itself. Solomon’s parents were very hospitable to give up their bedroom for me. I lived with them for 2 days to see what life was like there.
The villagers have access to leprosy medication. When the older generation contracted leprosy, they were sent to this colony with their entire family. Some 300 people lived there. It is amongst the older generation that I saw crippled limbs and disfigured feet and hands. Leprosy is completely treatable with multi-drug therapy but if untreated a secondary infection develops that attacks the nervous system and causes the crippled limbs. Leprosy isn’t completely eradicated there but the younger generation seem to be living leprosy-free.
It was a tough few days. Eleven of us shared a 2 bedroom house. There was one bathroom in the rear garden with a squatting toilet. The toilet had no flush. You had to throw buckets of water down yourself. There were lots of mosquitoes swarming about. Rubbish was thrown away by literally throwing it out onto a huge pile in the back garden.
There should have been electricity but that was cut from about 9am to 6pm due to poliltical fighting in Andhra Pradesh. It was 35 degrees Celsius. It was unbearable. I tried to sit outside for some breeze. My blood started boiling because I thought how can a government do this to its poor prople? When there’s no electricity, they can’t use their sewing machines. Solomon, the only guy with a computer can’t use it to get connected to the outside world. It reeks of social injustice. They aren’t mad. They say it’s been going on for decades! The same politicians get re-elected. WHAT? I started to tell them about transprency and accountability in our UK parliamentary system to expand their understanding of the world. When people are oppressed for so long, they just accept things as the normal way of life. I hope to make them all rebels!
Eventually the electric water pump also stopped, so that the water tank ran dry. The women knew not having water would push me over the edge! They manually pumped one bucket of water for me to have a “shower”. I used half and left half for my travel companion.
Food was delicious but full of carbs. The meals were devoid of fruit and vegetables. They prepared some meat for us, for which I was thankful. They would never eat with us, saying they would eat later. Perhaps they didn’t have enough food and wanted us to have enough?
The women spent most of their mornings washing their metres and metres of saris and preparing food for their families. I thought, rather tongue-in-cheekly, if India cut the lenght of their saris by half, they may reduce poverty by half! The men in their communities typically do not do any household chores or look after children. Even if the women had paid work, when would they be able to do it? They are expected to do everything at home. Strict gender stereotypes apply here.
The children were a happy bunch. Playing and singing all day on the village roads. Actually, shouldn’t they be at school?
I saw a 10 year old boy behaving badly. He was rude and when his mother tried to tell him what to do, he kept hitting her. She didn’t actually retaliate to exert any authority over the boy. Why? I learnt that only fathers can discipline boys. Mothers have no authority over boys. Since this boy’s father was working away, the boy was therefore “allowed” to treat his mother badly. My travel companion being a British mother could not stay quiet. She pulled the boy aside and told him to respect his mother.
I see what life the women have here. They are generous, hospitable and always with a smile on their faces. To me, the women at the leprosy colony live a life with limited choices in an ostracised community. I want to give them a chance to work and earn some money.
I couldn’t leave with nothing. They showed me some bags they have been weaving for sale in the local market. I decided then and there that Little Trove would support them long term, starting with an order of bags to sell in the UK. The bags are handwoven using cotton.
Little Trove is the exclusive distributor of Village Hands products.
I give them business support, advice and whatever help I can. I plan to help them put into place a proper production facility with proper processes and trained leaders. I also plan to fundraise to help them build a workshop. At the time of writing, they have started building! Watch this space …
I am proud to say that Little Trove has bagged another business award!
Last year, I entered a business competition in Staffordshire called the Business Boost Awards offering prize money of £1000 and a part-funded apprentice. I entered in the entrepreneurial spirit category. I guess the judges were impressed by our combination of fair trade products and party planners conducting home parties because they awarded us the first prize! With the £1000, we installed a wooden cabin in our warehouse to create a heated space for my apprentice and I. I was very grateful for the win because our warehouse is otherwise freezing cold! I didn’t win the apprentice prize though. I guess applying for an apprentice in warehousing and logistics wasn’t sexy enough.
So this year in June when I saw the same advert about the competition, I thought I’d better not be too greedy. However, for the first time the organisers had a category entitled “recognising social enterprise”. I thought “what’s there to lose in trying?” We are a social enterprise and we need the money to subsidise those crazily expensive trade fair stands! Not to mention having a spare set of hands in the office will be useful if we get a new apprentice.
Stage 1: A simple application form asking the usual contact details, the intended use of the prize money, whether an apprentice was needed as well as a 100 word summary of the business.
It was important here to make sure the summary fit the objectives of the category. Since it was for “social enterprise”, I made sure to say straight away that Little Trove was a fair trade company, whose mission was to increase living standards through trade. I explained the whole process from production to sales and reinvestment into the producer groups to highlight the social aspect of the enterprise.
Stage 2: An invitation to submit a business plan. Having passed stage 1, we were asked to submit a business plan by mid-Sept. Luckily, I have software called “Business Plan Pro” that takes you through the relevant parts of a business plan and puts in fancy graphs! The plan encompassed general information about the business, market research, management structure, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), a marketing plan, web plan, financial forecasts (including cash flow forecast) for 3 years etc etc.
I’m no expert but I gave it my best! I am always prudent and conservative in my forecasts, meaning I always deflate income projections and inflate costs. That way my forecasts show a worse case scenario. The hope is always to bring in more income and to reduce costs but I’d rather not be too optimistic in a plan.
The plan was judged by a panel of businessmen. I had no idea if it was good or not.
Stage 3: Live presentation. I was invited to make a 10 minute presentation to the judging panel on the morning of 9th October, in the final round of the competition. That morning, my husband and I went armed in very smart business suits, a power point presentation, product samples and marketing materials.
At that stage, you want to create an instant good impression. You want to show them that you are a solid business. We are a small company but that doesn’t mean we have to operate unprofessionally.
Confidence is key. If a business owner isn’t confident when they walk into the room, why should anyone want to buy what they’ve got to sell?
Passion is also important. If you’re in this fair trade business, you’ve got to be passionate about it. There are easier ways to make money than this. In this fair trade business, I visit remote corners of the world, create products with people who have very basic education and infrastructure, pre-pay the producers prior to production out of my own pocket and then have to pay exorbitant trade stand fees to attract retailers and offer credit to small shops that can’t afford to pay upfront for their small orders.
Only people who see the bigger social picture and realise that they can contribute to change will be bothered to do this. The world needs such mad people to equalise the imbalance in world trade. Quite frankly, I earned more and worked less as a solicitor.
For the presentation, I used a power point presentation I had prepared with powerful pictures of our producer groups and clear information about how the business operates, the benefit to the producers & the use of the prize money. Learning from last year that warehousing and logistics isn’t interesting, I applied for an apprentice in marketing and creative design instead. I showed what support and infrastructure would be available at our office to train an apprentice.
Then a 20 minute Q & A from the judging panel, drilling down some financial information from the business plan etc etc. I sensed that one judge asked what legal structure we were (which is a limited company) because he had an issue with us not being a CIC (Community Interest Company). He didn’t say it but I knew what he was wondering. It’s important in life to see behind people’s questions. They asked something but what’s behind the question? Often you should answer the question behind the question because that sorts out the heart of the matter. People don’t always know to ask the right questions. I said we were a limited company but that we had incorporated a CIC to transfer into etc. My husband told me off later for giving too long an answer when a simple “limited” would have sufficed.
I can assure you with all my legal training and quoting the Guide on Social Enterprise on the Government BIS (Department of Business Innovation and Skills) website that a social enterprise can have many legal forms; a limited company, a CIC, a sole trader, association etc. You get my gist. A CIC is only one form of social enterprise. For more information: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/legal-forms-for-social-enterprise-a-guide
Finals: Awards ceremony
I’m not sure what the speeches were about. I was too nervous thinking about the result. They showed video after video of the finalists; 14 in total across 3 category. Then ours. I saw the competitor’s video and thought “Crap we’ve lost, for sure”. They did marvellous work locally with families. Our social impact was abroad. Doubts creep in as to whether our business is good enough. The envelope is opened and it’s US! We won the first prize of £1000!
Our £1000 is going straight to Spring Fair 2015. Come see us in Hall 4, Stand number to be confirmed!
At the very end, were the 2 apprentice prizes v 14 finalists. I thought “no chance” of getting one. The first one is awarded to a IT company and the very last prize of the night goes to US! I couldn’t believe it for one second. We won a part-funded apprentice too! I could not have been happier! As I write this, I still can’t believe it. I’m waiting for the real cheque to arrive and for the apprentice provider to be in touch. I’ve also won some training voucher from our chamber of commerce and 1 year’s membership of a social enterprise organisation.
Did I tell you that the judge who drilled me at the Q & A said to me right after my win as I shook his hand that for him I wasn’t going to win because I was a limited company and that my one answer about us becoming a CIC was what swung it for him? I smiled and thanked him for the win thinking with my legal brain that a social enterprise is about the purpose of a company not its legal form. You see how an answer answering his real question and not limited to his actual question made the difference between a win and a loss?
The point I would like to make is that people often think they aren’t good enough or that their competitors are doing better than they actually are. People sometimes don’t put themselves forward because they think they will lose. If you don’t try you’ve lost anyway!
Founder & MD
at a ceremony held in Staffordshire on 9th October 2014.
September has been a whirlwind month of success for fair trade distributor Little Trove.
Based in Newcastle under Lyme, the business accelerated a year of growth when it became an official fair trade supplier under the umbrella of the British Association for Fair Trade Shops & Suppliers (BAFTS) on September 1.
“This certification has really opened up doors for Little Trove,” says Ramona Hirschi, founder and Managing Director. “Earlier this month we exhibited at Autumn Fair at Birmingham NEC and were approached by fair trade shops across the UK. Now, these traders plan to stock Little Trove branded products, meaning that we’re selling nationally, growing brand recognition and winning new customers.
“In a few months, we’ve already gained 25 new retail stockists across the country and this certification can only create more business opportunities.”
As a BAFTS supplier member, Little Trove complies with the 10 principles of fair trade in its business relationships with suppliers and customers. “Little Trove is all about unique products that are ethically produced, “says Ramona. “Our membership in BAFTS recognises our work in creating opportunities for economically disadvantaged producers, fair trading practices, no child labour and a commitment to non-discrimination and respect for the environment.”
The success does not stop there for Little Trove, who on September 29 will be opening a pop-up shop in Newcastle town centre in collaboration with The Hub. This new community interest initiative, which will be managed by a Ms Salwa Booth, will bring more ethical and handmade products to the high street, stocking Little Trove home furnishings and Christmas gifts as well as locally made handicrafts.
“We’re delighted to be having this pop-up shop to showcase our products,” says Ramona,
“which as well as driving sales will also bring an empty shop lot back to life and hopefully bring more footfall to the town centre.”
With the help of the Newcastle Town Centre Partnership and the property department of Newcastle Borough Council, the shop will running until 24 December, with plans to make it a more permanent feature should the trial run smoothly.
“It’s been a fantastic month of growth,” says Ramona, “and is really putting the business in great stead for the busy Christmas period. We now look forward to the future, where big things are in the pipeline for Little Trove.”
Article in monthly newsletter of Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce.
Yay! We are excited to announce that all the paperwork filling and trips to producers have paid off because we are not verified fair trade supplier members under the British Association of Fair Trade Shops (or BAFTS for short). Just in time for Autumn Fair too!!!
For immediate release: June 2014.
Little Trove to debut at Harrogate Home & Gift Fair
Fair Trade company Little Trove will be making its debut at the Harrogate Home & Gift Fair as it explores new trade markets.
The Harrogate Home & Gift Fair is a well-established trade fair showcasing design led home furnishings and gifts to an international audience of trade buyers.
Little Trove of Newcastle, Staffordshire, is an on-line fair trade luxury goods and homeware business.
The company was founded on a party plan model with owner, Ramona Hirschi, recruiting consultants across the UK.
“Exhibiting at Harrogate will follow on from our entry at the Pulse show in London in May” said Ramona. “We have always heard good things about exhibiting at Harrogate and so we are delighted to be taking part”.
“Our products will be showcased to around 12,000 high quality retail buyers”.
“The exposure at Harrogate comes at just the right time for Little Trove, as we showcase some new ranges for Christmas. We are working to forge alliances with homeware gift stores as well as garden centres who we feel fit with our range of products.”
Harrogate takes place on Sunday to Wednesday, 13 to 16 July. The Harrogate International Centre exhibition is the UK’s leading showcase for new products in homeware, giftware, fashion and accessories.
The theme of the 2014 show is “First Pick” providing buyers with the opportunity to be the first to discover never-before-seen products, future trends and up-to-the-minute market insights.
For media enquiries contact Ramona Hirschi on 01782922536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to Editors:
Little Trove was founded in 2011 by Ramona Hirschi as a way to promote design-led fair trade products in the UK.
Ramona is passionate about providing work opportunities and in using fair trade as a means of generating income for disadvantaged producer groups. A recent fact finding visit to India resulted in the launch of a project with weaver women in a leprosy colony.
Little Trove won first place for entrepreneurial spirit in the 2013 Newcastle-under-Lyme Business Boost Awards.