3S Awards Corner: Alter Eco Interview

Alter Eco logo3S People, 3S Community, 3S Environment – Sustainable & Socially Responsible Sourcing!

The GSC 3S Award Gala Event provided an opportunity for thought leaders in sustainable and socially responsible sourcing to network and celebrate the winners of the GSC 3S Awards.


Alter Eco's Jeanne Cloutier receives 3S Award 2012 in Community Engagement from Dan Green, Director of Citi Commercial Bank NYC Division

Alter Eco’s Jeanne Cloutier receives 3S Award 2012 in Community Engagement from Dan Green, Director of Citi Commercial Bank NYC Division

This month’s interviews with 2012 WINNERS: 

Community Engagement Award: Alter Eco Employee Engagement Award: VOS

To learn more about our winners, you can not only click on the website links but look at the 3S Awards. 3S Award Site.

Alter Eco Intrview:

Can companies make profit and incorporate social responsibility into their business model at the same time? The Global Sourcing Council (GSC) – a non-profit organization focusing on “greening” global supply chains – believes so. The GSC 3S Awards program (www.gsc3sawards.com) honors best sustainable and socially responsible practices in global sourcing operations. The program is open to companies, NGOs and individuals incorporating CSR into their global operations- especially sourcing practices.

One of the main categories in 3S Awards is the 3S Community Engagement Award, which symbolizes an organization’s commitment to empowering local communities that are part of its supply chain. This year, a company promoting such “profit with purpose” is Alter Eco – a global food trader that works with underprivileged farmers across the world, assuring them fair prices for their products.

Established in 2004 in San Francisco, Calif. by two Frenchmen, Edouard Rollet and Mathieu Senard, Alter Eco Americas promotes a form of global commerce where priority is given to working with marginalized farmers to build trade relations based on solidarity and sustainability. It currently operates in USA, France, Canada and Australia, trading globally.

“Alter Eco is honored to be selected for the Community Engagement Award from 3S,” said Jeanne Cloutier, Director of Operations. “The recognition from this award underscores and bolsters our commitment to the Direct Trade model of commerce as a solution for alleviating global poverty and empowering farmers worldwide.”

Below is an interview Ms. Cloutier gave the GSC:

Can you tell us about the element of inspiration and purpose that pushed your organization towards pursuing goals in sustainable and socially responsible practices, as opposed to a strictly profits-based model?

Alter Eco was started by a group of friends who share a passion for economic and social justice and food. From the start, our mission was to work with small-scale farms in the developing world. The initial spark came from an article in a Catholic Services magazine that described a new economic model in which the price paid to small-scale producers in developing world for their crop was an important part of the trading relationship. Small-scale farmers produce excellent quality products and deserve a just and equitable price for their crop, this is the basis of fair trade. No matter the type of food—red, white or rainbow quinoa from Bolivia, heirloom Jasmine rice from Thailand, Mascobado cane sugar from the Philippines or dark chocolate bars made with organic cacao from Ecuador and Peru—each has distinct flavors that result from native soils, climate and farming techniques. Our business model combines high quality foods with sustainable development that nurtures small growers and the environment.

What do you understand by corporate social responsibility (CSR)? What do you understand by sustainable sourcing practices?

The way business has been run for the past 50 years is that companies in rich countries are going to buy commodities at the cheapest price possible, regardless of the effect on people or the environment. We want to change that. Sourcing sustainably implies knowing who you are making the purchase from, with full traceability from farmer to brand-holder. With full traceability comes accountability and ultimately – mutuality. This means that we can only be successful when our partner farmers are also successful. If a farmer is struggling, we as a company are going to struggle as well. Treating farmers as professionals, e.g. paying them so that they can reinvest their profits into increased quality, is a win-win. It’s really about seeing them as fellow members of the human race, rather than “producers”. Social programs are equally critically important to sustainable sourcing. One is not going to improve yields if the roof over their head is falling down and they do not have access to basic human rights like clean water for example.

What do you think sets you apart – as far as business model is concerned – from other companies from your sector?

As proud partners of Fair Trade USA and the FairTrade Labeling Organization (FLO), 100% of our products are Fair Trade Certified. This means the producers have been paid a price that ensures sustainable production and living conditions, along with a premium to support the growth and advancement of the cooperatives and their communities. Contract prices between Alter Eco and the supplying farmers are 10% to 30% higher than the local market price, with an additional Fair Trade premium set every year by the Fair Trade Labeling Organization (by product category and country of origin). In a global food system where farmers often carry debt three times their annual income, Fair Trade provides concrete opportunities for a stable, prosperous life. In addition to Fair Trade practices, we work directly with our co-op partners to create a supportive and mutually beneficial business relationship. Eliminating middle men creates savings we can redistribute, providing farmers with higher prices for their goods. We sign long-term contracts and prepay for crops so that farmers can better plan for the future, maintaining consistent quality and output. Additionally, we act as guarantors on loans–and pay the interest on their behalf–to allow the farmers to properly prepare for a successful planting. We’re not just importers, we work for our friends.

What do you think can be done to make the business world aware of the need for corporate social responsibility? 

Leading by example. This means emphasizing all three elements of CSR: people, planet and profits. The more revenue we can generate, the more sales increase for us, the more revenue is generated for our farmers. Success breeds success all the way down the chain. Alleviating poverty through fair trade is the basis of our business.

How is caring for local communities with which you do business influencing the business outcomes in case of your company, or in general?

Fair trade equals quality. Having financial freedom gives farmers the means to reinvest in their homes, health, families and community, and of course in their farms. We believe we have the best quality rice, chocolate, quinoa and sugar on the market, because farmers with a margin to invest in their farms can continually improve their conditions over time. As a result, the food grown on these farms is better. We directly correlate fair trade with higher and higher quality over time.


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