Fair Trade & Fair Partnership For A Fair World & A Bright Future!
This is the first installment in a three-part blog series discussing the nine Principles of Fair Trade as put forth by the Fair Trade Federation (FTF), and some additional Principles of Atacora Fair Partnership which distinguish our business model in the larger field of Fair Trade. Each Principle will be discussed in regard to how they are manifest in Atacora’s actions in Benin, West Africa. The first two installments will focus on the FTF Principles, and the final installment will introduce readers to our unique Fair Partnership model. Enjoy!
I gathered my closest Beninese collaborators in 2009 to co-create a community collaboration that would generate income in the Atacora region of northern Benin. We agreed that this was the best strategy to fight the poverty and inequality that has held on stubbornly to people’s lives. We agreed that the principles of Fair Trade would be the cornerstone of our endeavor. As we defined and refined our project, we realized that there were additional principles that could enhance this solid base, and Atacora Fair Partnership began to take shape.
We became members of the Fair Trade Federation in 2012 to join and help build a community of ethical business people. Members’ stories and how the Fair Trade Principles are manifest in their activities have provided us a great deal of inspiration. Using that framework of 9 Principles, and expanding upon them with our own flavor of Fair Partnership, we offer a glimpse of the Atacora Fair Partnership story:
FTF #1 : Create Opportunity
Atacora is by far the largest employer in the area. Over 100 people have good paying jobs as they work to help the community rise up. We opened up the global market for their botanical resources, and now farmers’ and growers’ efforts are well-rewarded. This has helped raise the standard of living for nearly 1500 families, which will affect generations to come.
FTF #2 : Develop Transparent and Accountable Relationships
Relationships are the foundation of Fair Partnership. To be a producer-partner in the Atacora structure has become a point of pride in Boukombe. The mutual trust implicit in these partnerships means that no party can seek to undermine any other, and that decisions and protocols must be conceived of together and agreed upon. Atacora field agents are constantly present and in full view in our 50+ Baobab producer villages. We listen to producers’ concerns, and tailor our outreach to obtain the most satisfactory outcome for everyone. I may be the CEO of the organization, coordinating global operations, but I consider it very important that I personally be very visible in producer communities, to reinforce the personal relationships I’ve built over many years, and to forge new ones. Our meetings and discussions are always open and honest, and geared to mutual benefit. It would never work without this emphasis on integrity. Atacora is of, by, and for the people.
FTF #3 : Build Capacity
In order to maximize the benefits of Fair Partnership, products to be sold on the international market must meet exacting quality standards. Collaborating with local and global organizations who bring their expertise, our staff provides ongoing training in organic production, hygiene and overall best practices to every single producer village and collective several times a year. Armed with new knowledge and insight, they can reinforce the marketability of their products by delivering the best quality, and also apply it to all other aspects of their lives. We also have a longstanding partnership with Peace Corps, and our volunteers build our Beninese staff’s capacity in business management and organizational procedure. Our staff’s abilities have multiplied over several volunteer cycles, such that it is now harder to find a new volunteer who can keep up with them, much less stay ahead of them! Our partnership with Ecocert SA has provided us with comprehensive knowledge of organic production, superior traceability and enhanced the quality and marketability of our products.
FTF #4 : Promote Fair Trade
We at Atacora lead with our mission, as it is our mission that led us to go into business. All of our branding and promotional materials make it clear that we stand for our constituents. Our customers are mostly drawn to us because of the Fair Trade ethics behind our fine African wellness products. This, we cannot compromise; it is who we are. We are proud to be in the lead of a growing consortium of Beninese producers for whom socio-economic justice and environmental stewardship are central to their operations.