Guest blog by Aurélie Dumont, UK Director of Veja
Assigning financial value to nature and engaging local people financially to improve their livelihoods is key to restoring and conserving ecosystems. This is what we had in mind when we started Veja eight years ago.
With the idea and drive to create trainers that would help protect the Amazonian forest, respect all the people along the production chain and promote new farming models, we started our journey in Brazil in 2004. When Fairtrade certification was still in its infancy, we met with communities of small marginalised producers and set up a chain that goes from cotton fields in South America to fashion stores in Europe, and that respects high social and environmental standards at each step.
Veja is now a sustainable company that produces 120,000 pairs of trainers a year, distributed in more than 400 stores across the world, and with offices in Paris, London and Porto Alegre (Brazil).
The journey to build up Veja to what it is today taught us that very often, the key to helping preserve ecosystems and human wellbeing is to work together as an efficient trio, of NGOs or governments, local communities and businesses.
So, what does that look like?
The canvas of our trainers is made from organic cotton grown by an association of small farmers in Ceará, North East Brazil. Ceará is a semi-arid area with vast socio-economic inequalities. Three hundred and fifty families make a living there from agro-ecological farming, a model that bans the use of pesticides and chemicals. Working hand in hand from the early stages of our project with local NGO Esplar – that provides technical support to the producers – made this project efficient, transparent and sustainable on the ground.
The rubber used in the soles of the trainers comes from the Amazon. When we started working in this remote area of the globe we were buying virgin rubber that was then processed outside the forest. In 2008 the rubber tappers organised themselves into a cooperative and we backed the launch of a new technology called FDL (Folha Desfumada Liquida – Liquid Smoked Sheet). Invented by Professor Floriano Pastore from the University of Brasilia, it allows the rubber tappers to transform freshly harvested tree rubber into high-quality sheets of semi-processed rubber, without any industrial processing. The rubber tappers can now sell a semi-finished product, they receive a higher income (FDL = 7R$ / Classic rubber = 3.5R$) and added value is brought into the forest. Selling wild rubber from the Amazon at a premium is an incentive for local communities to keep the trees standing – they earn a decent living from rubber tapping and are consequently less tempted by the short-term financial opportunities related to land-clearing, cattle breeding or timber extraction for example. The introduction of that new technology was the result of joint efforts by the government of Acre, WWF and Veja as a buyer for the rubber.
In France we’ve partnered with a non-profit to continue the solidarity chain in Europe. Stock and deliveries are managed by Ateliers Sans Frontieres (Workshops without Borders), a charity that reintegrates people into society through employment.
Economic, social and environmental values are all interlinked. It is businesses’ responsibility to back the work of NGOs and governments and introduce an economic dimension to sustainable development projects. This gives the projects an economic reality and engages local people, who are the guardians of ecosystems and ecosystem services.
To find out more visit www.veja.fr. Veja is is a member of the Forum Network, recent recipient of the Guardian Sustainable Business supply chain award and winner of the Observer Ethical award for Fashion & Accessories. Veja's co-founder Francois-Ghislain Morillion will share their story of creating a new disruptive business model at our Forum Network event on 25 September, Creating Sustainable Value Chains: from lines to loops.
This is a guest blog. The views expressed are those of the author, and are not necessarily endorsed by Forum for the Future.