Time for Strategic Planning: While the World Economy Is Slowing Down, Exporters from Developing Countries Should Be Positioning Themselves for the Recovery and a Boost in Ethical Trade

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People around the world are waking up to a new economic reality and asking themselves what impact the economic maelstrom will have on ethical trade, developing nations and consumer conscience. The most practical exporters should also be asking what strategies they should use to survive or even benefit from the crisis.

The first suggestion is, don't panic. In many respects the crisis is near bottom. We are not entering a 10-year global recession, and governments have demonstrated that they will do whatever it takes to get spending moving again. While the global economy will not recover as quickly as it unwound, the same interconnectivity that caused the rapid collapse will bring about its regrowth. Greed will return and to some extent it will be good. It will replace fear and once economies stabilize, investments will resurface and consumers will follow.

If you can't find the ethical consumer, it's not because they've disappeared; they are just shopping elsewhere. Chase them. Consumers in the largest markets have pulled back on broad spending, spending instead at discount retailers and in smaller amounts. They haven't lost their desire for ethical products, just the means to pay for them. Ethical shoppers may be flocking to mass discount retailers, but those same retailers want ways to cost-effectively meet their consumer conscience and this could effectively help to mainstream ethical trade.

However, to do business with mainstream retailers and get more favourable terms, you must proactively go to them rather than wait for them to come to you. If this sounds too expensive, hire someone on commission or team up with another supplier to co-fund.

It's a good time to invest in capacity building--consider grants and pro bono contributions. As research by Ethisphere Institute (www.ethisphere.com) indicates, once premium prices begin to exceed 3% over comparable non-ethical products, the ability to capture market share begins to erode. Naturally this correlation is even stronger in a weak economic enviroment. However, through building production economies of scale, migrating up the production value chain and taking advantage of the strong dollar, a savvy exporter can gain share. While respected groups such as ITC are one avenue for partnerships, an enormous and largely untapped resource is the philanthropic sector in the developed world, which includes many organizations that would provide grants to support ethical trade. A quick search of contractors on a website such as www.elance.com turns up hundreds of professional grant writers, many of whom will identity funding organizations and write grants for less than $20 an hour.

Going to lobbyist and public relations firms and asking for pro bono (free) support is another option. With the economic slowdown, many such firms have idle time that they might be willing to apply to your ethical trading cause.

Pick the ethical angle and flaunt it. When large retailers raise the ethical standards required of suppliers, companies that have already invested in ethical production will have a head start. That said, a supplier cannot be all things to all people, so choose which issues you want to tackle first (e. …