Stories about terrible working conditions along supply chains keep emerging. From sweat shops to modern slavery – we reply on journalists to uncover horrible truths to spark change. But social enterprise organisations with traceable supply chains eliminate ambiguity and promote social change. I want to share why I think we should all become a little more social.
One of the most recent exposés on life along the supply chain came from The Daily Mail. The article revealed that some factory workers in India suffer from horrendous burns when shelling cashew nuts. The burns come from caustic acids that naturally exist between the cashew nut and its outer shell. As is often the case with stories like this, the workers are mainly women and their stories are insufferable. I work for Liberation Foods – a social enterprise that’s part-owned by farmers. We bring Fairtrade nuts to the UK with entirely transparent supply chains and our profits go back to rural communities that grow the nuts. I saw the article in the Daily Mail and was shocked by it.
Factory workers in our supply chains don’t suffer from acid burns. We source tens of thousands of kilograms of Fairtrade certified cashews from Kerala - but only work with factories that give employees castor oil to put on their hands. Caustic acids can’t penetrate the oil, meaning it acts as a barrier and protects the skin from burns. It’s a simple, inexpensive solution, from a natural vegetable oil that does not harm people or the environment.
At the moment, there is very little transparency in supply chains - consumers don’t have much information on the journey their food goes on. They shop in blissful ignorance of some of the terrible conditions for producers and handlers contend with. The ongoing price wars between supermarkets mean consumers expect low prices. And who can blame them? The economy has been challenging and many people across the UK struggle to make ends meet. But supermarkets do make some room for ethical products with sustainable supply chains – we are stocked in Waitrose and supply Tesco and Sainsbury’s with Fairtrade nuts sold under their own label.
Problems like acid burns from cashew processing don’t exist because supermarket buyers don’t care about others in developing countries. They exist because people don’t know the daily realities for workers. Buyers are busy, have a lot of products to look after and simply don’t know enough about the conditions in factories and on farms. To solve this problem, we need articles like this one in the Daily Mail to expose problems. But important as it is to highlight problems, we also need to offer solutions. We need to celebrate brands with ethical supply chains and social purpose – share their stories and spread the word.
Social enterprises are on the rise - there are over 100,000 resgisteed organisations in the UK that are worth over £60bn. The figures are surprisingly big. These businesses do things differently – they tackle problems with innovative ideas and creativity. They rise to the challenge of making the economy more circular.
On a personal level, we can use our purchasing power and pick brands, cafés and restaurants that aim to make a positive impact. Whether that’s swapping some of your weekly shop to Fairtrade or visiting a café that offers employment to people with learning difficulties like Haggerston Perk Café.
Here on Business Fights Poverty, we are a business focussed community. So, we can think about how our own organisations can support social enterprises and whether we source products ethical supply chains.. We can request that staff refreshments come from brands like Liberation and Aduna or the toiletries come from the likes of The Soap Co. The Buy Social Corporate Challenge is a campaign by Social Enterprise UK to encourage big businesses to spend more money with social enterprise organisations.
But we also need to keep the conversation alive on brands that disrupt the status quo. We must keep telling people about alternative business models – so that supply chains can become more sustainable. If you find ways to bring social enterprise brands into your business, shout about it. Post it on your intranet, add it into your annual report and share it on social media. Help give the small brands that do good a voice. The more we demand socially conscious options and shout about them, the more brands with less favourable supply chains are likely to notice think about changing their strategies.