German company GEPA: “spearheading fair trade”
by Karin Heinze (comments: 0)
The SDGs are particularly important for the strategic orientation of GEPA. Vandana Shiva (in the middle) on a visit to GEPA. Photo © GEPA
The biggest fair trade firm in Europe, domiciled in Wuppertal in Germany, is delighted with another good business year: in 2016 the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Partnerschaft mit der Dritten Welt mbH (GEPA) – The Fair Trade Company - recorded growth of around 7 percent and achieved turnover of 74 million euros. With the appointment of Peter Schaumberger the company is headed by two managing directors, with Schaumberger becoming the brand and distribution manager. He intends to increase the proportion of organics in the product range and concentrate his attention on sustainability and climate change. The company also involves itself in world economic and development policy issues.
Peter Schaumberger has been the managing director in charge of Brand and Distribution since February 2017. Photo © GEPA
Since it was founded 42 years ago, GEPA has grown into Europe's best-performing fair trade company. The Wuppertal firm employs about 170 people and is continuously extending its product portfolio. Among its priorities are increasing the proportion of organic products and expanding its own Fair plus strategy. Thus, by means of innovating, the fair trade pioneer aims to further develop the idea of fair trade and to set an example with its own practical work.
Schaumberger explains that the guidelines of Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO), issuing the international fair trade certification mark, are regarded as only minimum standards and adds: “Our multi-phase system incorporates, for example, supplementary achievements and organic certification wherever possible. We take responsibility and with pre-financing we relieve partners of much of the risk. For some partners we bear the cost of organic certification and we also pay organic premia during the conversion phase.” He points out that these are just a few examples and the effectiveness of these measures can be seen in the fact that the organic share in the case of coffee – the best selling GEPA product - is 93 percent. Working together with the partner association Naturland, they are planning to continue driving up the proportion of organic (currently 78 percent).
With the help of GEPA, coffee farmer Agnes Tumuramye from Uganda is converting to organic. Photo © GEPA/ Nusch
Genuine prospects through discussion and ideas instead of isolation
Schaumberger says that, not only fair trade with partners in countries in the south, but lived fairness in the administration in Wuppertal are practised as a matter of course. He cites the powerful works council and a Fairphone for executives and field staff, co-financing of a job bike and cooperation with the Wuppertal municipal services to get a reduced-price tickets on public transport. “We live Fair plus here in Wuppertal too and focus on the people in the value chain. We take for granted that the idea of fair must not apply only to our trade partners,” he asserts. He cites the development of the community of values between north and south as the core of the company and its understanding of fair trade. He says that “only by joining forces can we fight for the elimination of injustice in world trade.” He maintains that focusing on discussion and ideas instead of isolation, taking responsibility and giving the people in the countries in the south genuine prospects are more important today than ever before.
Speaking about his aims as the managing director, Schaumberger says: “We see ourselves as, in a way, spearheading fair trade. We take the responsibility for our remit very seriously. We give a face to our producers and our aim is to market premium quality in every respect.” Organic plays a big part in this. He emphasises that fair and organic is the combination they're striving for, but points out that 100 percent organic can probably never be achieved, since GEPA has always incentivised new projects and sells goods produced in the conversion phase. They always encourage new partners to take up organic cultivation and they provide the corresponding advice. The basis for fair raw materials is using chemicals as little as possible. FLO standards ban many pesticides, but organic cultivation is not included in the statutes.
Coffee farmer Agnes Tumuramye in Uganda will soon supply her first organic coffee. Photo © GEPA/ Nusch:
Picture © NorAndino: Weather phenomenon El Niño has raged particularly severe and many GEPA partners are affected.
Gepa is also involved in protecting the climate. An example is a reforestation project in the Philippines. Barbara Schimmelpfennig, press officer at GEPA, explains that climate change now plays a big part in discussions with producers . GEPA took this as an opportunity to initiate a panel discussion on the issue of climate change and its impact. As well as German experts and the representative of a coffee cooperative in Honduras, representatives of other producer groups were able to contribute via a video message.
Marketing in all channels
They have long since moved beyond the original sales channels of World Shops and action groups. The catering service, that in 2016 registered turnover of 7.9 million euros, is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Sales of food, including organic and wholefoods, rose by 10 percent to 28 million euros. In this sector they are going to focus more on seasonal business in particular (Christmas product range). The online business recorded an increase of 24 percent (1.1 million euros) and turnover in the segment Countries Abroad/Processors (raw goods, for example raw cocoa) rose by 22.2 percent to 15.6 million euros.
GEPA product assortment at Rewe. Photo Karin Heinze
Profit – yes please, but no profit maximisation
“As the name tells us, Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Partnerschaft mit der Dritten Welt mbH – Company for the Promotion of Partnership with the Third World - the focus of the business model is not profit maximisation, even though it does, of course, have to be profitable,” Schimmelpfennig explains. The church sponsors of GEPA (Brot für die Welt, Misereor, Kindermissionswerk Sternsinger, Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Evangelischen Jugend aej and Bund der Deutschen Katholischen Jugend BDKJ) constitute the broad basis of the company and support its commitment to development. The fair aims are summarised in the “Fair plus” points of Gepa and include the financing model (additional price premium), direct purchasing in the case of cooperatives, contribution to climate protection, special awareness of quality and commitment to environmentally friendly packaging from mainly renewable raw materials.
The Fair Trade Company/A. Welsing: cocoa farmer Nelson Cruz is pleased with the support he gets from GEPA. Photo © GEPA