Ethically speaking…

Business activities that cause or exacerbate conflict are well-documented, yet it is only in the last 20 years that consideration has been given to how business could mitigate or prevent conflict and, indeed, foster peace. With a passion for the topic of Business for Peace we took part in the Ethical Trade Institute’s Introduction to Ethical Trade workshop to gain a more formal and practical understanding of the main issues, ideas behind and advantages of ethical trade. It also paved the way for further training on how to build an ethical trade strategy for your company.

To give you the bigger picture, the United Nations (UN) has, over many years, attempted to “mobilise action and shape the efforts of governments, businesses, trade unions and civil society organisations across the world to create a sustainable future”(1). The most recent effort is the introduction of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 Sustainable Development Goals covering a range of interdependent issues that need tackling. Goal 8 is focussed on decent work and economic growth which is particularly relevant to ethical trade and workers rights.

How this relates back to business practice becomes clear when you look at the well-publicised example of the Rana Plaza collapse. The lack of industrial safety by the sub-contractors  showed the true cost of today’s fast fashion craze and caused global brands and retailers to evaluate their demands and the supply chains that meet those demands. Another example commonly quoted in the Business for Peace arena were the practices of extractive industries, who operate in conflict zones and conflict-prone countries across the world. Making the wrong decisions such as “investment, employment, community relations, environmental protection and security arrangements” (2) can exacerbate tensions. Getting them right could see the  country move towards lasting peace. 

You may not be a global fashion brand or a multinational oil, mining or natural gas company with a huge Corporate Social Responsibility budget or an in-house ethical trade team, but you may already allocate employee time or money towards community engagement and fostering goodwill. So why not take this a baby step further! Go beyond just fulfilling your minimum legal requirements. Take a look at the wider implications of your business decisions. Evaluate your own business and labour practices then consider those of your supply chain.

Trading ethically can serve to differentiate you from your competitors, especially in a crowded market. Investors will have more confidence in a socially and environmentally responsible business founded on safe business practice. An enhanced image of your company can be created which will attract and retain talented employees and help build a more positive work environment. Going beyond your first steps, if you are sourcing from or exporting to conflict-affected areas why not look more closely at how you can help strengthen these partnerships, developing policies to support decent job creation and entrepreneurship not only within your partner companies but also for micro-businesses that can support them.

As with any strategy, you will need a strong business case to support it with clear goals and ways to measure success (even for those intangibles such as recruitment or image). All business owners desire a successful, resilient business. All business owners desire a stable trading environment with the potential to source from or supply to new markets unhampered by conflict. All business owners can be part of the solution.

Tomorrow The World advocates activities that promote peaceful and inclusive societies (UN Sustainable Development Goal 16).  Get in touch to learn how we can help you take those first steps towards an ethical trade programme.

1 “Realise The Potential of Your Ethical Trade Programme”, Ethical Trade Initiative, 2017.
2 “Conflict-Sensitive Business Practice: Guidance for Extractive Industries”, International Alert, 2005