Ethical business: Find, support, build ventures that make a better world

ethical businesses, business as a force for social change - Sunita and Noonday Collection

Julie Godshall is a Noonday Collection Ambassador & Coaching Leader.

“But what does ethical business mean?”

That’s where I left us last time, when I shared how the tragedy of the Rana Plaza collapse sparked my interest in fighting against the fashion industry’s exploitation of women and, ultimately, led to my career as a Noonday ambassador.

The good news: You and I can do something, by creating and supporting ethical businesses. But what are ethical businesses and how can you find them?

Moreover, how can you build one?

It’s all easier than you might think.

Sunita’s story

The fashion industry provides an excellent example of both the problems women face, and the solutions we can all be a part of.

Sunita’s journey highlights both.

Sunita lives in India, which has some of the worst gender disparity in the world.

Upon having a daughter, Sunita found work with a jewelry-making group, where she suffered from abuse and inadequate pay. She later learned of an employer that offered good pay and educational programs, and made the switch. This group is one of Noonday Collection’s partners.

Soon, through making jewelry for Noonday’s customers, Sunita was providing for her family and even discovering her voice and the influence she could have.

business as a force for social change - Sunita and Noonday Collection
Sunita and her children. (Photo: Noonday Collection)

Even in the face of threats from men in her community, she started spreading the news to other women about this opportunity, assisting them to find work. She is now an active leader in her company’s health outreach programs.

Her daughter, having grown up with Sunita’s example, is a leader in youth outreach that includes self-defense classes for girls.

These women are breaking a cycle of disempowerment and poverty in their family and in families around them.

Sunita’s “before” story is all too common, but her “after” story is possible for so many more women when people like you and me support pathways for them to provide for their families and emerge as leaders in their communities.

When women are empowered

According to the President of the World Bank Group, “When we promote true equality—including equal pay for equal work—we all stand to benefit, because better educated mothers produce healthier children, and women who earn more invest more in the next generation.” (Source: World Bank)

I would add, women achieving equality is what the world needs in an even deeper way: Without the voices of women in all spaces — in the home, in the boardroom, in political offices, in the pages of books and screenplays, and more — our world is missing out on the fullness of the human experience.

And this all begins with pathways to opportunity, at home and abroad, which you and I can help create.

Business as it should be

Business should be a place where the planet and its people are highly valued, and where all stakeholders — consumers, business owners, employees, suppliers, etc. — can benefit.

Two important markers of ethical business are their status as Fair Trade Federation members and/or Benefit Corporations, or B Corps.

  • The Fair Trade Federation is a trade group made up of businesses proven to abide by its principles, most of which focus on sourcing and the business’s relationship with its suppliers. This includes on-time payment of good wages, safety in the workplace, no discrimination, cultural preservation, and environmental care. Fair Trade focuses mainly on farmed products, such as coffee and chocolate, and artisan-made crafts, such as home goods and fashion. The emphasis is on poverty alleviation and sustainable development for vulnerable communities around the globe.
  • B Corps are businesses across 150 (and counting) industries — beyond farmed and artisan goods — that have a proven commitment to strict values in all they do. Certification requires an extensive audit of social and environmental standards, transparency, and accountability. B Corps include Seventh Generation, Warby Parker, Ben & Jerry’s, Nutiva, Patagonia, Athleta, Hootsuite, Noonday Collection and more.
fair trade principles at Noonday Collection
The principles of Fair Trade
ethical business

There are certainly many businesses that abide by similar principles without the certification, as can be verified through consumer research. However, due to the extensive vetting process, I take FTF and B Corp status as short-hand for ethical businesses that I’m glad to support — and work for, since Noonday is both.

So learning about these certifications is an excellent way for you to create paths to flourishing.

You can find and support businesses with these certifications, but also become familiar with the standards to help you know what questions to ask of businesses who don’t have the certifications, and to provide a blueprint for ways to prioritize social and environmental impact in your own business.

Pathbuilding 101 for consumers and entrepreneurs

So how can we help create paths to empower women near and far?

As a consumer, support businesses owned by women, such as those in motherbility’s Hire A Mom directory.

Support businesses that have a proven commitment to gender equality. Businesses that are certified members of the Fair Trade Federation and/or B Corps are a great place to start.

Since many brands have excellent practices but not the certifications, this podcast episode from Molly Stillman gives an excellent overview of how to identify whether a brand aligns with your values. You can also use ethical brand directories like Molly’s here, and my friend LeeAnne’s here.

This need not be an overnight change (see my post on why small steps are best). Maybe it’s simply starting with your next clothing purchase, the snacks you buy, or what you purchase (or request!) for Mother’s Day.

(Click here for my Mother’s Day shopping guide.)

As an entrepreneur, follow the lead of B Corps.

Choose vendors and suppliers that align with your values. Consider what your business can do to create an impact in two ways: how you use your profit (eg, donations, or investing in social and environmental impact businesses), as well as how you generate your profit (eg, sourcing, vendor partnerships, environmental care in the workplace, diversity and inclusion, etc.). Again, take one step at a time. Can you reduce waste at your next event? Can you do some further research on the practices of your vendors, one at a time?

Since B Corps cover so many industries, you can use it as a directory of great options for printing, packaging, tools, employee benefits, travel and more.

And, if you are looking for a way to start a flexible social impact business that fights against fast fashion and connects consumers to their power to create change, learn about entrepreneurship with Noonday here.

A Vision for the Future

Fashion revolution with Noonday Collection
In 2018, I was able to spend Fashion Revolution Week in Vietnam with Noonday’s founder, Jessica Honegger, and the artisans behind some of our accessories. (Photo: @carynnoel)

Fittingly, I was concluding my first trip to meet Noonday’s artisan business partners around the fifth anniversary of the Rana Plaza Complex disaster.

While in Vietnam, my group was able to participate up-close with the central question that the Fashion Revolution poses: Who made your clothes or jewelry? Getting to see workers first-hand, and to understand the impact of fair trade on their communities, was life-changing.

This was a vision of what the future should, and could, hold for women everywhere, when business is as it should be: a vehicle for social change.

So be aware, but don’t stop there. The next step after awareness is action — action that is deeply rooted in the belief that you do have what it takes to create a better world, to create more pathways into flourishing, one choice at a time.

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