Fairtrade Foundation

Fairtrade Kept Advocating for Farms and Workers in the Developing World, Even as the Rest of the World Went into Lockdown
[Fairtrade Foundation] logo
Now that we have this communications app that works anywhere, we’re able to keep Fairtrade Foundation’s employees and volunteers connected from home and continuing to do the work that changes people’s lives.

Jacob Cunningham

IT Analyst

The commodities that sustain the entire world often come from farms and mines, factories, and plantations in its poorest areas in the global south, whose workers have little political or economic empowerment. Who’s protecting these workers’ rights?

It’s easy for people in Western societies to forget or ignore, but many of the goods we use each day—food, cotton, coffee, tea, flowers, gold—come from farms and mines in parts of the world where the farmers and workers are paid a fraction of what they deserve.
But thanks to the work of Fairtrade Foundation, nearly two million farmers and workers across dozens of developing countries are able to earn better prices for their goods, improve their working conditions, respect the environment, and create a higher quality of life for their families and communities.
The London-based Fairtrade Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to working alongside farmers, and workers in developing countries so that they receive a better deal. It is part of the international Fairtrade system, which works with businesses, consumers, and campaigners around the world to help secure sustainable livelihoods for the people who grow and produce the goods the world depends on.
The organisation’s FAIRTRADE Mark—which over its 25-year history has been placed on 6,000 products—signals to consumers that the producers and sellers engage in ethical practices, such as providing safe working conditions, being paid a Fairtrade Premium on top of the Fairtrade Minimum Price, and protecting local water sources, forests, and other environmental resources. Today more than 80% of UK consumers use the Mark as a factor in deciding whether a product is ethical.
But the global pandemic put Fairtrade’s important work at risk. Fortunately, they had just rolled out a new communications solution that made it easy to keep operations on track even with a fully remote workforce.

A communications infrastructure that needed a helping hand

Even before COVID-19, Fairtrade Foundation was already researching new communications solutions, for several reasons. The most pressing was that the organisation’s on-prem phone system was becoming increasingly outdated and unreliable.
“The PBX was very tricky to operate and extremely buggy,” recalls Jacob Cunningham, IT Analyst for Fairtrade Foundation. “It was also so unreliable that it got in the way of our staff’s ability to have important conversations with the businesses, campaigners, and other organisations we need to partner with to carry out our mission.”
And although remote working was always a part of Fairtrade Foundation’s company culture, the phone system was often a problem for employees working from home. As Jacob explains: “Employees calling in from outside our office had to go through a VPN, which added another layer of complexity and another failure point.”
The phone system didn’t offer much. No easy way to work remotely, no tracking or analytics. We just used it to answer calls. And it was so unreliable, even that worked only some of the time.

Jacob Cunningham

IT Analyst
London, UK

Cloud communications offered a night-and-day difference…

Choosing RingCentral’s all-in-one cloud platform also solved another challenge that had been frustrating Fairtrade Foundation’s staff. Because their legacy phone system offered only telephone service, the organisation had to use other tools for different communication services, such as team messaging and video conferencing.
“We were sharing video conference licenses, which meant sometimes an employee would have to go looking for someone’s license to borrow,” Jacob says. “With RingCentral, it’s so easy now because everyone has their own account and can easily set up a video meeting anytime.”

… and they implemented it literally overnight

But what Jacob and his team found truly amazing about RingCentral was how much of a non-event it was to implement—even though it represented a brand-new technology platform rolled out just as the entire company was transitioning for the first time ever to 100% remote work.
“We had planned to start the implementation a few days later,” Jacob recalls. “Then 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 and the whole thing ran brilliantly.”

Continuing to carry out their life-changing work

One of the most significant benefits of rolling out the RingCentral work-from-anywhere solution has been that the Fairtrade Foundation was able to keep its volunteers operating even though they’re working from home. Had the organisation been using its previous phone system when the shutdown orders were issued, that might not have been possible.
“We used to need our volunteers to be at headquarters to take calls,” says Jacob. “But because RingCentral lets them log in from anywhere, even using their laptops or smartphones, they can join our call queues and keep helping for as long as the stay-at-home order lasts.”