It’s personal doing business

There’s an expression “Don’t take it personally, it’s just business” which may be uttered as a parent’s means of supporting their family is taken away through retrenchment or investors lose their savings when yet another market bubble bursts. As business is an activity performed person to person, regardless of whether or not these persons hide behind the corporate veil, business is extremely personal and it’s time for these social impacts to be acknowledged.

The social impact of business is portrayed in a film The Fair Trade, what is your life worth? which tells the true story of Tamara Johnson and her personal journey from suicidal depression to Fairtrade entrepreneur. Tragically Tamara loses her boyfriend in a car accident on the night he intends to propose. She is so deeply shocked she contemplates ending her own life, not just momentarily, but this is a thought she holds for some years.

However Tamara makes a ‘pact with God’ to try to make a difference for the remainder of her life however long that is. She quits her high profile job assisting the production of Hollywood films and interacting daily with famous actors, to find a job with genuine meaning and in her words “something that impacts the soul”.

Together with her sister and brother-in-law they establish a Fairtrade business called Anti-body ( www.anti-body.com). Anti-body purchases Fairtrade certified coconut oil and shea butter from a co-operative in Togo, Africa, and makes a range of natural body care products which it sells in the USA and online.

The Anti-body entrepreneurs develop a fair trading relationship with the African co-operative. Fairtrade requires that the co-op’s employees are paid a living wage and that all products are produced in compliance with strict labour, safety and environmental standards. In Australia a range of imported products are sold with the Fairtrade logo including chocolate, coffee, clothing and nutritional grains such as quinoa.

Tamara finds meaning in her life through her Fairtrade business and its positive impact on people. The most powerful moment in the film is when she visits the co-operative in Togo and meets the (mostly) women who manage the co-op and make the products purchased by Anti-body. She sees the transformational power of business when it strives to meet ethical and sustainability principles. Not only is her own life transformed but she witnesses children being fed who would otherwise starve, the raised status of women in the village who work in the co-op, and the genuine hope of being rescued from a life of desperate poverty, provided by the simple transaction of paying a fair price to a supplier who in reality lacks the negotiating position or market experience to demand a fair return on their labour.

Fairtrade is not the normal standard for doing business. Corporate business practice is motivated by extreme self interest. However the economics of self interest has failed spectacularly in recent times. Conventional business pursues the wrong goal of short term economic wealth creation. Fairtrade offers an ethical alternative.

Geoff Lamberton is a senior lecturer in ethics and sustainability at Southern Cross University.


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