New Report by “Weltladen Dachverband”

Weltladen Dachverband, the German association of world shops with 450 members, has recently published a report on the relationship between world shops and municipal authorities in Germany. The report highlights both the challenges and the potential of a closer cooperation between municipalities and world shops.

The report is based on a project carried out from October to December 2018 to assess how world shops can function as cooperation partners for fair public procurement and networking. The aim was to work out solution approaches for world shops to build a stronger commitment to Fair Trade in their municipality. The findings from the report were taken from an inquiry sent out to the world shops as well as from discussions and workshops.

By the end of 2018, there were 1029 municipalities in Germany that were officially involved in Fair Trade. In comparison to the total number of more than 11,000 municipalities in Germany, this makes up 10 % of the German municipalities. The type of involvement differs between the cities, however Weltladen Dachverband found that among the 1029 municipalities active in Fair Trade, 683 were involved in only one initiative: They were either a Fairtrade-Town (167), or there was one or several World Shops in the city (514), or the municipality had applied to become a „Fair Trade Capital“ (2). For the world shop association these numbers show a potential for better networking on a local level. This could include world shops encouraging the participation in the Fairtrade-Towns campaign in other municipalities or Fairtrade-Towns steering groups initiating spin-offs of world shops in their towns. Furthermore, those municipalities that have both a world shop and the title of “Fairtrade-Town” (248 of the 1029 mentioned) appear to have a great potential in applying to become a “Fair Trade Capital”.

Apart from these numbers, one key element of the survey was an online-inquiry of world shops, in which 76 of the contacted world shops took part. The survey showed that 68 % of the world shops consider it “important” or “very important” that Weltladen Dachverband plays a more active role in shaping the future of fair public procurement and networking with local authorities and world shops. The world shops expressed the wish for a wider development and offer of projects in this area on the part of the world shop association. The online-inquiry also disclosed several challenges in the work with municipalities. Around half of the world shops stated that they were “little” (40 %) or “not at all” (10 %) satisfied with their cooperation with local authorities.

As a further part of the survey, sales numbers by suppliers of the world shops to local governments and municipalities were analysed. Rather surprisingly, it was found that in the food sector the turnover with local authorities were on average only around 1 % of the total turnover of the participating suppliers. Even more significantly appears the fact that these numbers have hardly changed over the past years, which shows that there is no notable increase of awareness on Fair Trade within municipalities when it comes to food products delivered by Alternative Trade Organisations. The numbers for other products, however, show different results: A brand manufacturer of Fair Trade sports balls, for example, regularly generates around a quarter of its annual sales with local authorities, and sales have been increasing. It is estimated that around 20 % of these orders were placed with the support of world shops.

Numbers like these give an initial understanding of the potential and the obstacles of a deeper cooperation between world shops and municipalities. But the report by Weltladen Dachverband also takes into account qualitative findings that were collected in workshops and discussions with relevant actors.

In these conversations several difficulties in building up a better partnership were stressed. Among others, a key issue seems to be a lack of understanding of each other’s structures and ways of work – this relates to both local authorities being perceived by the world shops as being too bureaucratic and inflexible, and on the other hand administration staff having little understanding for the mainly not-for-profit structures of world shops. Also, criticism from local authorities was raised that world shop should work in more professional ways (e.g. through having clear contact persons, professional email addresses etc.). Some world shops mentioned that they feel not to be sufficiently appreciated or well enough recognized in their municipalities. One example mentioned was that some local authorities buy Fairtrade labelled products in supermarket discounters rather than sourcing from the world shop in their town. There is a potential of further research in this area to gain an understanding of the motives of the authorities to do so, e.g. if this is just a financial matter or if it traces back to a lack of knowledge of the different Fair Trade labels and suppliers.

Nonetheless, it can be seen that despite these challenges both world shops and local administrations see several advantages and opportunities in a stronger cooperation. For the administrations these include, among others, world shops bringing in important expertise on Fair Trade and Global Learning, providing valuable contacts or presenting themselves as reliable partners to enrich (joint) events. Also, world shops are often appreciated for providing a more “colourful economic fabric” in the city. For the world shops, the advantages lie in valuable contacts through networking with local authorities and their committees and in obtaining additional information and ideas for action. Furthermore, they raise their profile, diversify their sales opportunities and gain a more positive image through cooperation projects with local governments.

Following-up on the above findings, Weltladen Dachverband elaborated how it can support the networking between local administrations and world shops. Possible action points can be supporting the world shops in providing information, promoting already existing best practices or possibly create new ones, and support the coordination with Fair Trade organizations. Further approaches could be seminars for world shops as well as advocacy on a municipal scale. Also, the earlier mentioned potential in local networking should be promoted by the world shop association.

Summing up the findings of the research, Weltladen Dachverband draws the following conclusions:

  1. There are already existing success factors for a good cooperation between world shops and municipalities, which could be transformed into a recommendation of best practice.
  2. Employees from local administrations can be “door openers” for world shops.
  3. The Fairtrade-Towns campaign and the Weltladen Dachverband should cooperate more closely and make better use of each other’s potential.
  4. Measures taken by Weltladen Dachverband should also strengthen the financial interests of the world shops as well as support their professional and voluntary capacities.
  5. The companies listed in the supplier catalogue, whose food products are of interest to municipalities, generate very low turnover with municipalities and do not record any growth. There seems to be a significant potential for increase.
  6. Suppliers who can offer a high-quality, Fair Trade product with a unique selling proposition on the market can benefit from increasing fair procurement.
  7. World shops can promote fair procurement in municipalities and positively influence the sales to municipal authorities.
  8. Local authorities should become more aware of the added value of local world shops.
  9. The satisfaction of the World Shops in their cooperation with local authorities can be increased if local authorities value the commitment of the world shops through direct purchases.
  10. World shops and local governments have very different ways of working. Mutual understanding is important for successful cooperation.

The study was supported by