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Fair Trade

Building a Diverse Supply Chain Takes Work—But It’s Worth It

Feb. 4, 2022
The former CEO of Jamba Juice shares lessons in fair trade practices that can be applied across industries.

In this excerpt from his forthcoming book, Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Culture in a Race-Conscious World,former Jamba Juice CEO James D. White—along with Krista White,  who has joined him in his work—shares approaches on how diversity and inclusion can strengthen your supply chain.

Given today’s supply chain challenges, leaders have to be proactive in building diversity and inclusivity into their supply chains, as well as in helping suppliers and partners grow to scale. In recent years, more companies have discovered that building a fairer and more equitable supply chain benefits the broader global community, as well as brings a deeper perspective of ideas, and addresses the growing demand among consumers who patronize brands which support relevant social issues. Many of these companies have established models that others can emulate. Here are a few ways a company can create a fully diverse and inclusive supply chain.

Establish Networks through Pactnerships with Professional Associations

Professional associations representing BIPOC, women, disabled and LGBTQIA+ entrepreneurs are eager to partner with business leaders to offer more training programs, conferences and networking opportunities. Many industry trade associations have launched their own Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives and are actively seeking the support and sponsorship of corporate partners. If you can’t find an existing organization with a program that fits your agenda for creating a more diverse ecosystem, design your own program and enlist the appropriate associations as partners.

Host Your Own Development Programs for Minority-Owned Suppliers

Larger companies in particular are actively developing the suppliers they need. UPS is doing

this through partnerships with such organizations as the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, the National Minority Supplier Development Council and the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, running mentoring and training programs, workshops, professional matchmaking, supplier-diversity conferences and management education to support the growth and success of diverse suppliers. Coca-Cola runs a supplier-development institute in partnership with Georgia State University, providing education for disadvantaged groups on how to start a business. Target hosts a Supplier Diversity Summit, where indirect vendors can learn more about Target’s processes and business initiatives, while at the same time gaining direct access to Target leaders. Target also hosts both Target Accelerators, a quick, intensive training program for entrepreneurs, and vendor fairs aimed specifically at Black-and Latinx-owned businesses.

Become Part of an Industry Organization that Seeks to Achieve More Diverse Ecosystems

Fair Trade USA, an organization of food, retail and consumer-products companies committed to operating within an equitable ecosystem, is a good example of how companies can combine forces to build a fairer supply chain. The organization provides a Fair Trade certification to companies that ensure sustainable livelihoods, environmental protections and safe and fair working conditions for their suppliers. Athleta, Dole, General Mills, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, J. Crew, Patagonia and Target are among the more than 1,300 companies that have Fair Trade Certified product lines.

When companies combine forces this way, they’re no longer forced to compete by driving down the prices they pay suppliers—in many cases making it impossible for producers in far-off countries to earn a living wage. Fair trade empowers producers and enables businesses to support sustainable livelihoods and practices more transparently.

Fair Trade USA continuously seeks opportunities to expand its reach through business partnerships and through the expertise, technologies and resources provided by philanthropic partners. Consumer awareness of the Fair Trade Certified seal was about 63% as of 2021, nearly double what it was in 2008. Younger customers are even more interested in buying brands that support social responsibility. A Nielsen survey from 2015 found that 73% of millennials around the world said they were more likely to buy brands supporting social issues they care about. Needless to say, when Fair Trade Certified companies work with their suppliers to ensure fair working conditions in their factories and on their farms, they are improving life for people of color in many parts of the world.

The Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion ( J.E.D.I.) Collaborative for the natural-products industry is also working with producers and vendors to develop systematic DEI principles within the fair-trade model. The collaborative is talking about how to create a natural-products industry that yields a strong, positive impact wherever it sources ingredients and production; that brings in the voices of marginalized communities; and that reaps the innovations to be found when you have a diversity of identities and perspectives. J.E.D.I. is looking at DEI in a bigger, more global way, instilling the principles of an intentional anti-racist culture throughout the supply chain and the greater ecosystem.

All industries should be looking at building inclusive industry-wide practices for their supply chains; otherwise, they’ll miss out on critical perspectives.

A few final takeaways:

  • Seek out businesses owned by people from marginalized communities as suppliers and contractors and invest in their growth
  • Quantify and publicize the economic impact coming from your supplier relationships
  • Design your own programs to reach diverse suppliers and the communities you serve, in partnership with organizations that can help scale your work

James D. White is the former chair, CEO and president of Jamba Juice; a board director, and author of Anti-Racist Leadership: How to Transform Culture in a Race-Conscious World. He has more than 30 years’ experience revitalizing some of the world’s leading brands. In talks, he shares personal insights on how to build strong bridges between the boardroom and the shop floor and why investing in your workforce is key. Krista White is a writer and consultant in the field of DEI/Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

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