How Fair Trade USA and B Corp Certification Help Businesses Amplify Justice and Positive Impact Throughout Their Supply Chains

October 28, 2020

Companies Build Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Through Collaboration and Stakeholder Empowerment

The events of 2020 — among them a global health crisis, social justice movement, and economic upheaval — put a spotlight on the importance of strong and resilient supply chains to businesses and those who depend on them. As shifts in demand disrupted the norm, companies faced decisions with immediate and longer-term effects on customers and workers throughout product supply chains. Businesses that had established relationships with these stakeholders often were better positioned.

Two business organizations are built around such stakeholder relationships, with a backbone in independent third-party measurement and transparency: Fair Trade USA® certifies products according to fair trade standards, which promote safe, healthy working environments, environmental stewardship, and sustainable incomes. In order to access benefits of Fair Trade certification, such as the Community Development Fund, the workforce elects a committee that must be representative of the workforce in terms of gender and ethnicity. Certified B Corporations are assessed for their impact on similar stakeholders — workers, environment, customers, and community — as well as their strategies for improvement. Companies with these certifications inherently encourage greater opportunity and well-being through practices that establish and expand justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.

For example, Emily Floyd, associate production manager for Athleta, a B Corp that also is Fair Trade™ certified, shares a story from one of its factories in Sri Lanka. “Their Fair Trade Committee voted to allocate Fair Trade Community Development Funds directly to the factory workers to help them during the COVID-19 crisis,” Floyd says. “About two-thirds of workers in Sri Lanka are part of the informal economy, and their livelihoods have been greatly impacted by the pandemic and resulting government shutdowns and economic downturn. The diversion of this money is helping many of the workers and their families to make ends meet during this difficult time.”

To learn more, B The Change spoke with leaders from four businesses with both Fair Trade USA and B Corp Certification:

  • Started in 1974, Traditional Medicinals first certified as a B Corp in 2010 and purchased its first Fair Trade Certified herb in 1998. The wellness tea company pioneered an ethical sourcing model by promoting organic agriculture, developing long-term equitable and fair trading relationships, and investing in sourcing communities.
  • REBBL is a nourishing plant-based beverage brand on a mission to leverage business as a tool for good while uplifting vulnerable communities around the world. From its start in 2013, REBBL was designed to reduce human trafficking and exploitation and build economic empowerment.
  • BLK & Bold, a Black-owned purveyor of specialty coffee and tea established in 2018, is a newly certified B Corp. The purpose-driven brand pledges 5% of its profits to initiatives aligned to sustaining youth programming, enhancing workforce development, and eradicating youth homelessness.
  • And Athleta, part of the Gap family of brands, creates premium performance apparel designed by women athletes for women and girls. The company has reached 70% of its 2020 goal of having 80% of its apparel made from recycled and sustainable products.

The Q&A below with leaders from these businesses highlights how the certifications help them and others build JEDI programs and create positive impact.

Why did your company decide to pursue both Fair Trade and B Corp certifications? How have they helped you advance a more equitable and sustainable business model?

Blair Kellison, Traditional Medicinals CEO:  We were ready to take both our sustainability and fair business practices to the next level, and we wanted to ensure that as we grew, we were aligning our values with our internal business practices.

B Corp and Fair Trade Certification helped us to establish independently verifiable sustainability in our supply chain and our operations.  With our unique ingredient and quality requirements, these certifications also help us to continue to build out deeper relationships with our vendors and suppliers. And importantly, it gave us creative challenges to learn from and provided a path toward continued improvement.

Emily Floyd, Athleta Associate Production Manager: One of Athleta’s core values is empowering and celebrating women, and we believe that as Athleta continues to grow we have an even greater responsibility to lead as a force for good. We decided to pursue Fair Trade Certification in 2017 to further instill those values within our supply chain to positively impact those who are making our products. This ties closely back to our core values, given that the majority of factory workers in the garment industry are women. The Community Development Funds paid by Athleta on products produced in a Fair Trade Certified factory goes directly back to the workers, supporting a myriad of projects that help both them and their communities.

In addition to the positive social impact of Fair Trade, our B Corp certification, achieved in 2018, has really challenged us to rethink how Athleta operates, considering both the social and environmental implications. Being certified as a B Corp doesn’t mean that we meet a minimum score and that’s it. It requires that we continuously work to figure out how we can push the needle, whether it’s working to convert the majority of our fabrics to sustainable fibers, working with factories to empower and lift up their workers, or educating employees at headquarters on how to mitigate waste.

Michele Kessler, REBBL CEO: We’ve always prioritized ethical, impact sourcing for all our ingredients. In 2012, REBBL gained Fair Trade certification and began sourcing Fair Trade Certified ingredients to help create positive social and environmental impact. In 2018, we became B Corp certified to reinforce our commitment to creating positive impact. We rank in the top 10% of all B Corps, and have been recognized as a Best For The World 2019 honoree in recognition of our positive impact on the environment, our workforce, our local communities, our suppliers, our customers, and our corporate governance. Both certifications give consumers and retail partners a way to verify that we are working toward the greater good.

Pernell Cezar, BLK & Bold Co-Founder: As a purpose-driven brand from inception, we have focused on incorporating our mission of supporting at-risk youth in underserved communities. From the beginning we knew pursuing both Fair Trade and B Corp certifications were going to be crucial components for our brand. From our initial brand launch in June of 2018, we prioritized a Fair Trade Certified assortment and we achieved our B Corp status in September of 2020.

From left: Blair Kellison of Traditional Medicinals, Emily Floyd of Athleta, Michele Kessler of REBBL, Pernell Cezar of BLK & Bold, and Emily Allbritten of Athleta.

How do these certifications help enhance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion (JEDI) in your company’s supply chain?

Kellison, Traditional Medicinals: Justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion have all been a part of the Traditional Medicinals ethos since our inception, but in 2020 we became an early adopter in the natural products industry’s JEDI Collaborative and began to formally integrate JEDI into our work supporting our global supply chain.

We are working in partnership with our suppliers and stakeholders to share practices and beliefs about what biases and culture look like. The framework we are building will provide our employees with tools to identify and address systemic barriers. This will help all of our staff, but most specifically those in procurement and supply, to identify potential issues or barriers with our vendors. It’s about a journey together to change how we think about herbal wellness and all the people behind it. B Corp and Fair Trade standards and best practices became a frame of reference for Traditional Medicinals to connect with other companies that build and share their strong sustainability and JEDI models.

Emily Allbritten, Athleta Manager of Strategic Initiatives: The retail industry in general uses many critical resources, and as a company we have decided to take action in improving our impact both on people and the planet. Fair Trade and B Corp help guide us to enhance justice, equity, diversity and inclusion throughout our company and product lifecycle — from how we think about designing more diverse, inclusive and sustainable products to improving the working conditions and treatment of factory workers. We still have an opportunity to further our impact, and these certifications and learnings allow us to continue to iterate.

Kessler, REBBL: We dive deeply into understanding our supply chains and pay fair wages to empower farmers, uplift communities, and protect the environment. We were founding members of the JEDI Collaborative. The Fair Trade Certified seal means that we adhere to rigorous social, environmental, and economic standards. On top of that, we pay a Fair Trade  Premium: that is, extra money above an agreed price for products. This premium can only be spent on community development projects, like schools and hospitals.

Cezar, BLK & Bold: Our Fair Trade and B Corp achievements provide additional proof points to both our retail partners and consumers supporting our dedication to being changemakers within our local community and beyond. Additionally, these certifications ensure our supply chain is ethical and sustainable, which is a necessity for us as we strive to operate with the utmost integrity through every channel of our business.

As Black business owners, we know firsthand the challenges that People of Color face in the business landscape. Through our B Corp and Fair Trade achievements we are able to ensure that every touchpoint of our product’s lifespan is as inclusive and sustainable as possible.

With the support of Fair Trade USA and B Corp, we are changing retail’s landscape of the lack of underrepresented founders and the void of domestic social impact. We feel an obligation to equip young people with tools to live their best lives and overcome familiar unfortunate circumstances by turning a daily ritual — enjoying a cup of coffee or tea — into a means of giving back through our 5% for Youth initiative.

Sign Up for our B The Change Newsletter

Read stories on the B Corp Movement and people using business as a force for good. The B The Change Newsletter is sent weekly on Fridays.