Graham Clewer

Podcast Interview

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BFP: What do you do?

GC: I am the International Director for Fair and Ethical Trade at The Body Shop. In this role I manage the Ethical Trade Programme at The Body Shop, which is concerned with labour rights, standards and working conditions of workers in our global supply chains. We align our work in this area with the UK Ethical Trading Initiative.

I also oversee a targeted pro-poor purchasing programme at The Body Shop’s which we call Community Fair Trade. This programme has been running since 1987 and today benefits close to 30,000 people in 24 countries, mostly in marginalised communities.

Our mission at The Body Shop is, and has always been, to use business as a force for good. So, in Community Fair Trade we apply a framework of fair trade to sourcing, and principles of fair and ethical trade underpin many of the decisions we make across the business.

We seek to use Community Fair Trade ingredients in our products wherever possible – the percentage is rising, it’s now around 80%. This includes some of nature’s finest ingredients, grown and harvested by expert local farmers using time-honoured techniques. It also includes handcrafted gifts and accessories. Through trading directly with these small-scale suppliers – and allowing them to make their own decisions – we can, in a small way, help to preserve a traditional way of life, while offering them fair, stable, long-term income. This allows them to build better futures for themselves and their communities. The long-term relationships we maintain through our Community Fair Trade programme really do help to radically transform communities.

While some of our ingredients are well-known, others are less visible. We are actively involved in raising awareness of the issues involved with sourcing some of these “invisible” ingredients. For example, The Body Shop has just launched the first fairly traded organic alcohol – alcohol can constitute up to 70% of perfume, yet few consumers are aware of its presence, or how it’s sourced.

Another key ingredient of cosmetics, and one that I’m really passionate about, is shea butter. Harvested exclusively by women, the global shea trade affects millions of rural women in the informal sector of West Africa. We have been sourcing shea butter through our Community Fair Trade programme for almost 20 years, but the benefits of this setup do not reflect what’s happening in the rest of the industry. So we are founding members of the Global Shea Alliance which aims to bring fairness and sustainability to this important sector.

BFP: What is the best part about your job?

GC: The sheer diversity of my work always excites me. In a typical day my agenda could cover fair trade and ethical sourcing alcohol, shea nuts, cocoa butter, sugar and wood; I could be discussing farmers from an indigenous tribe in the Amazon one moment and a coconut oil cooperative in the Pacific the next; or participate in a discussion on a responsible business network just before an interview with an Italian beauty magazine. The diversity of issues, products, locations and people makes for a very stimulating environment.

BFP: What has been your greatest challenge?

GC: Business and development do not always make natural bedfellows, and marrying their sometimes differing agendas has been a challenge. They even speak a different language and this alone can lead to a breakdown of communication and understanding. But the tide is turning.

As we know, traditional “business people” are not inclined to think about “development” – they don’t know why they should; business is not conscious of its footprint, or its implications. The challenge is to create a business that acknowledges and understands its footprint in order to optimize and manage it in an ethical and responsible way; to leverage it for all stakeholders, not to exploit it for a few. I guess the biggest challenge is to present the case for responsible business in such a way that those making the decisions wouldn’t want to do it any other way.

BFP: What has been the secret of your success?

GC: Having a background in industrial and not-for-profit sectors has helped me bridge the communications gap between the conventional business and development communities. I’m a linguist myself, and people interest me. This has enabled me to find a language that is accessible to both sides, which has been hugely important in my position where I often sit between those two worlds.

BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?

GC: Ideally have a combined background in business and in development. Experience of working in a developing country is essential – in order to truly understand what people need it is crucial to spend time with them, in their communities, to really get to understand their circumstances and the challenges they face. Equally, it is important to understand how business thinks and what the drivers are in a corporate context.

BFP: Finally: what do you hope to get out of being part of this community?

GC: Business Fights Poverty is wide ranging enough to offer something for everyone. I like keeping an eye on conversations, blogs etc to make sure I stay abreast of what other companies and colleagues are doing; it helps me identify potential partners and people I could exchange learnings with.

Business Fights Poverty also provides a great platform for advocacy – as I mentioned above I think we have a role to play in global advocacy on important issues such as the Global Shea Alliance, and Business Fights Poverty provides an excellent avenue for this advocacy.

Editor’s Note:

Thank you to Graham Clewer for taking the time to do this interview.

We’re always looking out for members to feature. Help us by taking two-minutes to update your profile, or by nominating someone for Business Fights Poverty Member of the Week.

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