When Allyson Myers ’93 graduated from Bentley University with degree in Business Management & Communications, she didn’t expect to play a role in the fair trade movement. She took a job at Lake Champlain Chocolates right out of college, well before the company received its “Fair for Life” Social & Fair Trade Certification in 2013.
Myers is currently the director of sales and marketing, and was one of the speakers at this fall’s second annual Fair Trade Fair, co-hosted by the Bentley Service-Learning Center and the Office of Sustainability. Twenty-one vendors, who sell goods ranging from coffee to handbags, attended the fair, which gave students the opportunity to hear from leaders in the fair trade world, learn about the industry, and sample fair trade products.
Why Fair Trade Matters
A trip to the Dominican Republic helped Myers understand fair trade’s significance in the world of business. Traveling with FairTrade USA Founder Paul Rice, she saw first-hand the starting point of the products she sold every day, meeting with the local farms that grew and roasted her company’s cocoa.
During the visit, parents and grandparents who had worked on fields their entire lives told her their kids no longer wanted to grow cacao (the raw, unrefined bean that is roasted into cocoa). “They wanted to move to the city, they wanted to work in technology, because there wasn’t enough money for them growing cacao anymore,” Myers explained.
Without the cacao, there was no cocoa, and without cocoa, there was no chocolate, and no Lake Champlain Chocolates. That realization brought Myers to the realization that, “As an industry we have to educate people in understanding that we’re not paying farmers enough for the work they’re doing…The cheapest product isn’t always the best product. You really have to think before you buy: what are you paying for?”
The low pay for farmers wasn’t just a problem in the Dominican Republic. Lake Champlain Chocolates is located in Vermont, an agriculture state. “Most family farms have gone out of business because the younger kids don’t want to milk the cows and don’t want to be in agriculture,” said Myers. “We have the same challenges in agriculture whether it’s here in the United States or around the world.”
Think before you buy: what are you paying for? says @LCChocolates @bentleyu grad. #fairtradeTWEET THIS
What You Can Learn from Fair Trade
The fair trade movement ensures all members along the supply chain are being compensated fairly, and is a growing part of the business world. Though Myers didn’t anticipate working at a fair trade company, looking back she sees three four lessons that she learned in college and have guided her career:
- Embrace Topics You Think Are Irrelevant
Fair trade is a very interdisciplinary business. You never know what will come in handy. For example, what does a management major get out of accounting classes? According to Myers, a lot. She was quick to admit that accounting and finance were not her favorite subjects in school. But she soon realized it was the mix of the hard and soft skills she learned at Bentley that allowed her to see the company through its transition into fair trade.
As Myers explains, “If you change your whole supply chain of chocolate sourcing, what’s the financial impact on the business and can the business still be viable?” Having a holistic education allowed her to make more educated decisions and ensure the transition made sense for the whole company, not just the sales and marketing departments.
- Join Group Projects
Transitioning a company to become fair trade is truly a group effort, and groups don’t always see eye-to-eye. Myers credited the endless team projects she had in school with the usual struggle of conflicting schedules, team members who wouldn’t always pull their weight, and opposing viewpoints, with her ability to unite everyone at Lake Champlain Chocolates. She recounted how accountants thought the switch was too risky and how managers didn’t want to promote the fair trade signage too heavily in packaging.
Having experience with working with diverse groups with different viewpoints allowed her to find compromises and move the whole company forward.
- Take Risks
Not every career move or business decision is easy. Sometimes you need to look at where your industry is headed and make a jump before the rest of the crowd.
“It was a risky decision, in some ways, for Lake Champlain Chocolates to completely change our chocolate supplier, change those relationships,” said Myers. But in the end, the risk made sense because the company was rooted in “really good, strong values” – and the risk paid off.
- Keep Your Values Top of Mind
You need to take risks during your career, but also make that sure they’re always in alignment with your morals. Figure out what your personal values are, and look for companies to work for that have similar views.
And, of course, put companies that are involved in fair trade at the top of your list!
Learn how Bentley is re-thinking green and joining in the sustainability movement.