Our Ethiopian team took some well-deserved time off last week to celebrate our factory’s 4th anniversary. Timing worked out perfectly for our staff, as they were able to share a huge communal meal and party the day before the 3-week Fast of the Apostles began. After 4 long years, we took the time to reflect on how far we’ve come, and everything we owe to the tireless efforts of our factory team.
From the very beginning, we had a vision for how we wanted our business to run, and that was to focus on the elevation and promotion of worker’s rights, ethical business practices and a sense of environmental stewardship. To that end, we identified Fair Trade USA as the most trusted and thorough organization to obtain our Fair Trade certification,as they challenged us to go above and beyond through meeting over 200 requirements. Unlike other organizations, Fair Trade USA took an extremely hands-on approach in our process, which included a full audit of our factory and business practices. Many of their regulations focus on the working conditions and policies for our employees, such as medical check-ups and maternity leave when necessary, as well as a wage that is double the minimum required in Ethiopia.
Another pillar of our certification is the Community Premium Fund, which takes a portion of all profits and places it in a fund, which is then spent through a democratic decision process. That fund can be used for whatever the staff wishes, such as community re-investment, or simply as a cash bonus. Providing these benefits are not without their challenges, yet the resulting work environment and culture more than makes up for it. When the end result of this work becomes apparent, it’s hard to imagine why more factories aren’t run the same way. Ultimately, as with any new experiment, it has to be proven possible once before it can be replicated, and we felt the reward of setting a new standard outweighed the risk of being the first Fair Trade Certified footwear factory.
After we became the world’s first Fair Trade Certified shoe factory in September 2013, we decided to ride that momentum and see what else was possible. We identified another set of business standards that we felt would push us to our maximum potential, to become a certified B corporation. B-corp certification requires a company to go above and beyond for both their employees and the local environment. An unfortunate side effect of globalization has been the transfer of environmentally damaging business practices to areas of the world who have a ways to go with environmental regulations. We felt that our commitment to our staff had to extend beyond their shift, which meant doing our part to support a healthy community and quality of life. While pollution is a global issue that requires significant teamwork, it is major industry that needs to lead the charge towards stricter practices. Our B-corp status signifies that we have taken every step possible to reduce our footprint on the environment both local and global. That includes sourcing materials from the continent to reduce global shipping, while supporting local economies and partnering with tanneries that employ revolutionary recycling techniques, and using natural materials whenever possible.
Our goal has always been to prove that it’s possible to run a successful company on these principles, and our staff has served as the ultimate motivation to follow through. Labour movements around the world made great sacrifices to achieve fair conditions for the average worker, the last 4 years represent our commitment to those efforts. We are both proud of our achievements and eternally grateful to our staff and customers who made it all possible, and we look forward to another 4 years with your help.