Last year, Traidcraft impacted on the lives of almost a
million people in the developing world. It's the UK's
leading independent Fairtrade retailer and development charity
focusing on trade. I can't help but feel inspired.
I've spent the past nine years at Traidcraft,
first as operations director, and then business direc- tor with
strategic responsibility for the trading activities. In July, I was
appointed as Traidcraft's first female chief executive.
Moving to Traidcraft came as something of a
calling, a very personal response to my growing concern
about ethics in business. I joined in 2004, after an earlier career
in the petrochemicals and oil industry in engineering, planning,
and management positions.
A vicarage upbringing comes into it somewhere.
(Where else do you learn the skills to tidy up a church hall in
record speed after an event?) And a desire to achieve; and a mother
who was one of Traidcraft's very first fair-traders, selling
products to members of the congregation.
Mum explained to us from a very early age how fair-trade
coffee, cocoa, and tea connected us to communities that really
needed our help. And it worked. Right through university
and beyond, I bought, gave, used, and promoted fair-trade food and
crafts. The passion for justice that my mother instilled in me
eventually led me from life in large corporate industry, to use
those skills to live out my beliefs, and that led me back to
Now I'm in the very fortunate position of seeing
first-hand the difference fair trade makes, to farmers and
artisans across the world - children going to school, villages
having access to clean water for the first time, support for
farmers and their families. I find that inspiring every single
Working for justice is a strong motivator,
knowing that, through our efforts, whole communities can
Traidcraft started off as pioneers, when fair
trade was little understood and a rather niche thing. We're still
developing new products that bring increasing numbers of farmers
and producers into the fair-trade system.
It's also true to say that fair trade would never have
been so successful without churches up and down the country joining
the fight to make trade fair. I don't think they get
Teachers have a huge impact on who you become.
I was good at most things at school; so later on I thought, "Mmm,
which subjects should I study?" I rather respected the maths and
physics teachers, who were both women; so I thought: it's OK to do
I was always encouraged to make things as a
child, not just play with dolls. I also knew that, in the
vicarage, money was tight; but, as an engineer, I could get
sponsored through university. So, I applied to blue-chip companies
and was sponsored by ICI. We probably had to work a bit harder to
succeed, but having those role-models gave me the confidence to
say, "Actually, you can do this."
I was a mechanical engineer in an oil refinery.
I liked big, heavy machines and pipes, and understanding how they
work and how to stop them leaking. Do I miss it? Well, I still have
the pleasure of making something, though I'm not as close to the
Like many organisations, Traidcraft hasn't been
immune from the commercial realities of the UK retail and
fund-raising climate. We measure our success in a very different
way from most businesses, but that's not to say that profit and
loss aren't important - of course they are. So we're working hard
to make sure we meet our customers' expectations.
The fair-trade landscape is changing, too. And,
though we know that the large brands entering the fair-trade market
benefit hundreds of thousands of people, we shouldn't forget that
the basic principles of fair trade were to change the way trade
works, so that small-scale producers can find markets for their
food and crafts.
If a big brand carries the Fairtrade mark, the
producers will have been fairly treated. The difference is that we
can go much further: we commit to a long-term relationship, and
make a positive choice to work with the smaller, more vulnerable
producers. Supermarkets can choose to price things at competitive
levels, and that's difficult for us. But we can show that buying
Traidcraft products is a way of making a real difference to the
lives of the poor.
Last year, we noted the growing pressure from some of
these larger businesses, who, in a difficult trading
environment, were flexing their muscles and lobbying for a
potential weakening of fair-trade principles. Large brands getting
into fair trade has been a good thing, but they will never replace
the role Traidcraft has, working with the most marginalised.
We're monitoring the situation closely, trying
to ensure that producers' and growers' interests are to the fore,
making sure fundamental fair-trade principles and development focus
aren't lost in the process .
As a student, I was influenced by the group of
young Christians I socialised with at Imperial College: the
late-night discussions on some finer point of scripture. . . We
really thought we knew it all back then. It's great to see where
we've all ended up in later life.
I've enjoyed the deep friendship of my local church
community in Stockton-on-Tees. They're very much my
family, and they've been there in the happy and the sad times. I
don't think you can be a Christian in isolation from other
I was always determined to do well, get good grades,
work hard. As I've grown older, I've had to learn that
this is impossible in my own strength. This hasn't always been an
easy thing to learn.
Leaving the oil industry was my most important
choice: leaving a successful, well-paid job, knowing that
God was calling me to a different purpose.
My grandfather died when I was in my mid-teens,
and I've always regretted that I didn't have more time with him. He
was one of life's interesting people: a mathematician and a priest.
He died very suddenly, but I would have loved to have had the
discussions with him in later life that I know we'd both have
enjoyed. And I'd love to have studied harder at languages and
become fluent in one or two.
I'd like to be remembered as a friend, someone
who tried to serve others. I'm happiest catching up and laughing
with close friends, enjoying their company and fellowship.
My favourite place would have to be the top of a
windswept mountain summit - any summit. I recently
completed climbing all the Lake District Wainwrights.
The Sermon on the Mount has to be my favourite part of
the Bible. Every time I read it something new hits me.
Some of the heavier books of the Old Testament tend to tax me -
Leviticus, and so on.
Favourite sound? I'm ashamed to admit that it's
probably the rustle of the wrapper and the delicious snap as I open
a fresh bar of chocolate - fair-trade, of course. Traidcraft tempts
me daily in this regard.
I'd consider myself slow to anger. I get
annoyed, frustrated, but real anger is rare for me. Inequality and
injustice make me angry, as does the denial that inequality and
Like most people, I suspect, I pray for those I
am closest to - my family and friends. I try and give thanks, but
sometimes I do rather have a shopping list of requests for the
I'm a great admirer of Elizabeth Fry; so it
would be good to be locked in a church with her to share our mutual
interest in chocolate, in the progress of women, in how we treat
those less fortunate than ourselves - the prisoners, the
asylum-seekers, our neighbours in Christ.
Mags Vaughan was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.