On 6th June as part of the “Connect & Act” members’ meeting and in the context of the Trade Fair Live Fair EC project, WFTO-Europe in collaboration with the Fair Trade Advocacy Office (FTAO) hosted the public event “The role of mission-led business models in pursuing global social and environmental justice”. 

The theme revolved around the link and interconnection between social and environmental justice, and the unique contribution of mission-led businesses in achieving these two.

Fair Trade can be a vehicle for advancing game-changing ecological ideas in business and Fair Trade enterprises can embrace circular economy and organic models of production. Crucially, aimed at demonstrating that environmental justice cannot be achieved without social justice, and that WFTO Fair Trade enterprises have an ability that could prove key in promoting solutions to both issues.

In view of the WFTO Fair Trade Summit in Lima, where Fair Trade actors from across the world will gather to discuss several topics, including climate justice, the public event was an opportunity for European organizations to exchange within the environmental and social economy networks on how it’s possible to improve ecological practices and reinforce our role as strategic allies in pursuing social and environmental justice.

During panel discussions and interactive group sessions, Fair Trade enterprises, NGOs and CSOs from the environmental, social and solidarity, and green economy movements, policy-makers and trade unionists debated the interconnection between social and environmental justice. In particular, the current economic model was dissected to identify some of the changes needed to make development not only sustainable, but also fair.

First off, WFTO Executive Director, Erinch Sahan, presented on mission-led enterprises with examples from the WFTO membership. Since such enterprises are driven by their mission, they are able to prioritise considerations for people and planet over the concern with maximising profit. Among the examples given, several do up-cycling of materials or engage in circular economy. Green Glass in Chile for example transforms waste bottles into drinking glasses; and Rice & Carry in Sri Lanka up-cycles waste material for fashioning bags – to name just two.

Following this was a panel debate with Sarah McKinley from the Well-being Economy Alliance (WeAll), Georgios Altintzis from the International Trade Union Confederation, and Leida Rijnhout, a freelance consultant on sustainability and systemic change. The moderator, Sergi Corbalán, executive director of the FTAO, asked each panellist to “connect the dots” between social and environmental justice, then to help all present make sense of how to act while balancing both. Among the main points raised in the discussion were the need to alter the current economic structure, to avoid the false dichotomy between social and environmental justice which often divides like-minded actors, and to approach these issues both bottom-up (through grass roots) as well as top-down (through policy and legislation). It was also pointed out that both social and environmental justice require costly choices and policies and where the burden of this price falls must be considered carefully to avoid push-back like the Gilets Jaunes (the Yellow Vests) in France (sparked by a fuel tax). This often leads to the common obstacle to action: dividing the two justices and handling one first – for example social justice to the detriment of the environment, since it is argued that the environment will then be fixed, once social justice has been achieved. Here mission-led enterprises play an important role, since they are able to combine the pursuit of both social and environmental justice simultaneously into a viable business model.

For the latter half of the event, participants divided into discussion groups to digest the inputs from the panel debate. When all gathered to wrap up, there seemed to be consensus on certain points, in particular: The need for support from policy-makers to facilitate sustainable and mission-led businesses in prospering; for transparency for consumers; and that the DNA of enterprises makes a needed economic change possible. Importantly, there was agreement that collaboration between Fair Trade, environmental movements, Social and Solidarity Economy, and the like will clearly benefit all – together all can achieve more of each other’s goals, many of which are overlapping. In short, all are part of the New Economy which must balance social needs with planetary boundaries.

You can download our press release on the event here.