How Fairtrade Was Able to Keep Advocating for Workers’ Rights Even through Lockdown

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Farm worker holding seedling in field

When you find a FAIRTRADE Mark on a product, you’re looking at a lot more than a logo. Most of the 6,000 products that have earned the right to display the FAIRTRADE Mark—which include foods, drinks, clothing, flowers, even gold jewellery—come from goods grown in some of the poorest countries in the world. The FAIRTRADE Mark means farmers and workers have a safety net that protects them from low market prices, they can protect the environment by following robust Fairtrade Standards and invest the Fairtrade Premium in business and community projects of their choice.

The organisation behind the FAIRTRADE Mark is Fairtrade Foundation, a UK-based nonprofit that for nearly 30 years has been helping farmers, miners, and other producers in the developing world earn better prices for their products and provide better lives for their families. As the organisation’s website puts it: “Fairtrade is a simple way to make a difference in the lives of the people who grow the things we love. We do this by making trade fair.”

When the pandemic led to a mandatory closure of their London headquarters, Fairtrade’s staff knew they’d need a new communications solution if they planned to continue carrying out their important work during the shutdown. The organisation had plenty of experience trying to work remotely with their legacy phone system—and those experiences weren’t positive.

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A communications infrastructure not ready for remote work  

Fairtrade had actually started looking for a new communications solution before the pandemic, because the organisation’s on-premises private branch exchange (PBX) was failing. The phone system was buggy, required a lot of IT maintenance, and regularly failed the staff when worked remotely, which they did often.

Fairtrade’s IT staff also used the phone-upgrade opportunity to find a solution that would allow them to consolidate other services, such as team messaging and video conferencing, onto a single platform.

A cloud communications rollout that couldn’t have been smoother

Fairtrade’s team signed up for the all-in-one cloud solution from RingCentral. Although they had planned to roll out the new solution company-wide over a period of days or even weeks, the sudden lockdown orders forced them to speed up their timetable.

As IT Analyst Jacob Cunningham recalls: “On a Monday in March, we got word we had to vacate our offices that evening and start up as a virtual company the next morning. So, we rolled out RingCentral, set up a virtual staff meeting for Tuesday—and everyone logged in and the whole thing ran brilliantly.”

Supporting a mission that can’t afford even a temporary shutdown

Fairtrade Foundation has worked tirelessly for decades to empower millions of farmers and workers in the global south to secure sustainable livelihoods, fulfil their potential and decide on their future. Even when their entire staff was forced to vacate their offices, Fairtrade refused to allow even the smallest interruption in its efforts to help improve these workers’ lives.

Read the full Fairtrade RingCentral success story.

Restructuring a nation through technology: How UK businesses are facing a post-pandemic future

Originally published Jul 08, 2020, updated Jan 16, 2023

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