How Fair Trade is Helping Communities in Cambodia
As the Fair Trade movement evolves around the world, we wanted to take a focused look at how Fair Trade helps communities around the world. In this interview, we asked two social enterprise founders/leaders, Marie Delassus (La Plantation) & Ruth Elliott (Daughters of Cambodia), a couple of questions about how their organisations help their communities and what being a woman in business meant to them.
Marie Delassus (La Plantation)
Marie Delassus is the Export Director at La Plantation. Created in 2013, La Plantation, a family-owned project, is committed to grow and deliver the best sustainable spices. In our flagship farm in the Kampot area in southern Cambodia, we follow century-old traditions to preserve the original taste of each spice. We create new blends and recipes every year, bringing the unique Kampot terroir to tables around the world. Our production model respects fair trade principles. As soon as harvested, the peppercorns, spices, roots, leaves and fruits are processed immediately in our on-site processing facilities. This freshness preserves the quality and the aromas of our products. From farm to table, we build a short supply chain with trusted partners to guarantee the freshest spices. Could you please share with us a bit about your organisation and its impact? La Plantation is a social business located in the Kampot Pepper region. Through the production of Kampot pepper & spices and the development of agritourism, La Plantation participates in the economic development of a rural community in southern Cambodia. Created in 2013, our family-owned project is committed to grow and deliver the best sustainable spices. In our flagship farm in the Kampot area in southern Cambodia, we follow century-old traditions to preserve the original taste of each spice. We create new blends and recipes every year, bringing the unique Kampot terroir to tables around the world. Our production model respects fair trade principles. As soon as harvested, the peppercorns, spices, roots, leaves and fruits are processed immediately in our on-site processing facilities. This freshness preserves the quality and the aromas of our products. From farm to table, we build a short supply chain with trusted partners to guarantee the freshest spices. Our project is built around 4 pillars:
Preserving Traditions Our head farmer, 5th generation of pepper growers, respects centuries-old traditions to preserve the taste of the finest pepper in the world, Kampot Pepper. Khmers, who still heal themselves with traditional and natural remedies, have extensive knowledge of local plants and their benefits. In 2020, we went on a hunt to discover new spices across different provinces of Cambodia, and select with them rare and endemic spices.
Embracing Innovation We conceive new preparations to sublime and preserve our spices, such as our Green Kampot Pepper: salted or dehydrated, and our process of cold-smoking. Our goal is to rediscover the best spices of Cambodia, whether cultivated or wild, to share them with the rest of the world. We work in sanitized environments with trained workers to ensure compliance with international food safety and hygiene standards.
Building Futures We embrace Fair Trade principles with all our partners and offer good working conditions to our employees. We train them regularly, to improve their skills. We follow Sustainable Agriculture practices through organic agriculture, permaculture, and crop rotation.
Leading Towards Excellency Quality is the base of our sustainability project. Our farmers take care of each tree throughout the year: from hand-selecting each peppercorn, to treatment on the very day of harvest, and the quality control before packaging. This quest for excellence is omnipresent in the experience we propose to our visitors at La Plantation, an agro-tourism centre in the Kampot region in Cambodia. It contributes to the brand’s reputation around the world.
As you operate in Cambodia, could you paint us a picture of what the current economic climate is and what it is like to run an enterprise there? Driven by garment exports and tourism, Cambodia’s economy has sustained an average real growth rate of 7.7 per cent between 1998 and 2019, making it one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. This fast growth has dramatically increased inequalities within society. Rural communities are especially let aside, with little to no access to health and education. Running an enterprise in Cambodia is a wonderful opportunity to showcase the uniqueness of its culture and traditions. It’s also a great challenge in terms of training. On the topic of Building Back Fairer - COVID has impacted communities globally. What has been the impact on the communities you work with, either positive or negative. The COVID outbreak caused sharp deceleration in most of Cambodia’s main engines of growth—tourism, manufacturing exports, and construction—which together accounted for more than 70 per cent of the country’s growth in 2019 and almost 40 per cent of paid employment. Communities in our region depend mainly on agriculture, which is a chance for them as they haven’t been impacted by food shortages that hit the cities in the latest lockdown. However, they have been hit by the closing of borders with Vietnam. Most of the fresh produce is usually exported to Vietnam, which is only 10-20km away. Over the past weeks, we can see mountains of fresh mangos left to rot on the verge of national roads. La Plantation’s business was also partly dependent on tourism. The sudden stop in March/April 2020 led us to reorganize quickly, transferring as much staff as possible from tourism to production activities.
What are the key challenges in the modern supply chain that must be addressed using Fairtrade as a vehicle for change? The spice supply chain is globally broken. Most of the production comes from small farms in developing countries. Market power and influence is concentrated in trading, processing and retail. Distributors blend different origins and harvests to create commodities with a stable price and taste. There is no traceability, and the result is that most spices available for sale in supermarkets around the world have a terrible taste – sometimes even a very low rate of actual spice as products are blend with cheap additives like broken rice or even dust… With fair trade, we are bringing more transparency in the supply chain, supporting local farmers to grow endemic varieties that we select for their special taste and aroma, and ensuring that producers get decent revenue from their work. As they can make a living with their production, they are triggered to develop their traditional farming activity rather than switching to industrial practices, with heavy use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
Your enterprise is a fair trade business; how does this model work with the communities you work with within Cambodia? Why did you decide to become a World Fair Trade Organisation? As a growing business settled in a remote area with limited job opportunities, we understand that many households depend on us. La Plantation has been a social business from day one, and we had the will a few years ago to get certified as a guarantee of our commitments and as a way to reach out to potential distributors around the world. Are you able to share any success stories in relation to the communities you work with? When our original chief farmer retired after setting up the whole farm and managing it for over 5 years, he was replaced by a young farmer we met through our partnership program. Our new head farmer was running a small family farm with his brothers, uncles, and he now manages over 100 persons at La Plantation! We were impressed by the quality of his pepper when we met him on his farm, and he is now training the whole team to reach the same quality. QUESTION 7: To build back fairer (Fair Trade movement slogan for 2021), what do you believe is the best foot forward? What advice can you give any other businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic or any budding entrepreneurs keen to pursue a business that aligns with the Fairtrade movement? “if more companies were working the same way as we do, would the world be a better place or worse?” Before launching a project, if you can answer yes to this question, then don’t hesitate!
Phone +855 (0) 17 84 25 05
Address Pepper Road, Secret Lake Bosjheng Village, Kon Sat Commune, Kampot 07000 Cambodia
Ruth Elliott (Daughters of Cambodia)
Ruth Elliott, a British psychologist working with young victims of sex trafficking in Cambodia, started Daughters of Cambodia in 2007. Ruth observed that almost 100% of victims rescued by force in brothel raids and placed in shelters returned to the sex industry upon reintegration because causal factors were not being addressed. Despite a strong motivation to leave sex work, they were forced back by cultural pressures to provide money for their families. Based on her experience within the culture and context, Ruth created a new model for tackling sex slavery whereby victims are empowered to set themselves free. They were invited to exit sex work voluntarily through alternative employment, along with education and application of lifestyle change within their own domestic and social lives, rather than from a shelter. Daughters of Cambodia started its work on January 1 2007. Businesses were started to provide clients with the income they needed in order to walk away from the sex industry as well as social, therapeutic, and educational programs for them to leave it behind emotionally. Could you please share with us a bit about your organisation and its impact? Daughters of Cambodia empowers those trapped in the sex industry to walk free and start a new life, with healing, dignity, and the means to prosper. This is achieved by providing jobs coupled with recovery programs. Our Operations Centre includes our sewing room, wood workshop, and screen printing businesses. Our Visitor Centre consists of our cafe, spa, and retail shop. Clients are able to grow within the organization and be promoted into managerial positions. In addition to providing sustainable jobs, we teach them how to sustain their new lifestyles in non-institutional settings, so that they're able to remain connected to their communities and families. Our social work team and volunteers provide different therapeutic programs including art, dance, and drama, as well as different classes such as our parenting class, health and hygiene, money management, and more!
As you operate in Cambodia, could you paint us a picture of what the current economic climate is and what it is like to run an enterprise there? Today, many Cambodian families are struggling financially, contributing to the rise of trafficking. One of the risk factors is cultural pressure for children to provide income for families, and this, coupled with lack of education, creates risk factors that lure & trap young girls into the sex industry. Fast fashion in the west also contributes to the poor wages and dangerous working conditions that are found in Cambodia's garment industry which is Cambodia's largest industry employing hundreds of thousands of workers and accounting for 40 per cent of gross domestic product. Cambodia's minimum wage is $192 a month.
On the topic of Building Back Fairer, the Fair Trade movement slogan of 2021 - COVID has had an impact on communities globally. What has been the impact for the communities you work with, either positive or negative? Because many businesses in Phnom Penh are dependent upon tourists, many businesses, including Daughters' have suffered greatly as tourism generates the majority of our income. Also, the recent surges of Covid have resulted in Cambodia closing all markets in Phnom Penh. Sponsorships and international orders were sustaining us, but now we are unable to operate during these shutdowns. There are 3 zones currently in place to help prevent the spread of Covid. The Red Zone has the most restrictions including prohibiting citizens from leaving that area or operating any businesses in that area. The majority of our clients live in Red Zone areas and food insecurity and shortages are on the rise. What are the key challenges in the modern supply chain that must be addressed using Fairtrade as a vehicle for change? I can speak from the US perspective. Everyone wants a good deal. Everyone wants to buy something on sale. In college, I worked in retail for several years and knew how much they marked up their clothing. People don't realize that the money they saved comes at a cost. In the west, we have a microwave mentality where we want things instantaneously. Businesses and retailers need to understand that by slashing their prices, they are depriving their supply chain of fair wages. More needs to be done in consumer-driven societies to keep businesses accountable. Businesses that thrive because of cheap labour and a flood of demand in the west.
Your enterprise is a fair trade business, how does this model work with the communities you work with within Cambodia? Why did you decide to become a World Fair Trade Organisation? Daughters of Cambodia was founded in 2007 and since our inception, we saw early on the power of a social enterprise is changing the lives and futures of our clients by empowering them and equipping them with the skills and income to thrive. By providing them with fair wages, safe working conditions, and rehabilitative programs, we helped our clients exit the sex industry and begin a new life. Our fair trade business practices are one of the main reasons our clients do not return to the sex industry. Our clients come from the most vulnerable communities. Through our social enterprises, we are not only changing their lives but the lives of their entire families and communities. We also prioritize sustainability and environmentally friendly practices, especially since plastic use is a huge issue in Southeast Asia. For example, in our cafe, we use cloth napkins, metal straws, and biodegradable paper take-out goods. We decided to become a World Fair Trade Organization because we want our customers to know that all of their purchases are ethically made and impacting lives. We are honoured to be a part of the amazing community of World Fair Trade Organizations around the world.
How are you driving impact to build a groundswell for the Fairtrade movement in the places that you operate in? What is the response like from the local policymakers? How has your journey been? Daughters was very much a pioneer in bringing ‘social enterprise’ to Cambodia. In recent years, this movement has grown exponentially, and we are excited to see so many businesses that help all populations throughout Cambodia including the most impoverished, individuals with a disability, and those exiting the sex industry. Overall, Cambodia is very open to NGOs that operate businesses that benefit their people. Of course, there are always local roadblocks and policies that make things a bit more difficult in terms of operating any business. We are fortunate to have incredible Khmer staff that help in navigating those arenas.
What are the main challenges for the communities you work with in terms of employment, health, education, social and environmental issues and how is your org addressing these? Those exiting the sex industry have very few options. There is a stigma attached to them and they are not seen as hirable, many times treated like a pariah. Because of this, may do not leave the sex industry because they feel they have no other choice and that their situation is hopeless. Many of them have little to no schooling so their options are even slimmer. Many of our clients come to us unaware of how to maintain hygienic practices to avoid illness. They do not understand what domestic violence and abuse are and that is wrong. Through our life skills and social work programs, we educate them on proper hygiene, issues like domestic violence, and so much more. We provide technical training to our client leaders and managers such as computer literacy, business classes, and leadership classes. We offer free counselling and therapeutic activities to assist in their social and emotional well-being. We also have a free daycare onsite to ensure that our clients have a safe place to leave their children while they work. Are you able to share any success stories in relation to the communities you work with? We recently published a photojournal, exploitation to restoration: a photojournal by Ruth Elliott. Below are a few featured stories from some of our clients: “...I used to feel like a flower that grew in the mud, but now I feel like a flower that grows in a clay pot and is taken care of. Working at Daughters has made me feel like I am part of something, that I am not alone. I feel like I belong. I feel much better in every area of my life” – BTH “Since joining Daughters, I have completely stopped experiencing anxiety, depression, low self-worth, suicidal thoughts, nightmares and hopelessness. The things that were a regular part of my life before, are no longer there” – BCH “I met a girl who works at Daughters who shared her story of her changed life with me so I left my brothel and began to work at Daughters straight away. I am learning hand sewing and I make pretty things from fabric. I feel so comfortable and safe at Daughters. I like having a good salary and nobody looks down on me; the shame of my bad reputation is gone. I love the skills that I have learned in the sewing room, as well as life skills that I have learnt, especially from the domestic violence workshop – how to protect myself and how to get help...” – PKD
To build back fairer (Fair Trade slogan for 2021), what do you believe is the best foot forward? What advice can you give any other businesses that have been impacted by the pandemic, or any budding entrepreneurs who are keen to pursue a business that aligns with the Fairtrade movement? To build back fairer, we need to continue to demand fair pay and safe working conditions in our supply chain. We need to incentivize fair trade practices and accountability, especially within big businesses. We also need to continue to utilize avenues like social media to build awareness. I feel like the upcoming younger generations have a real desire to see change and make a difference. We need to use the social media platforms available to us to reach them. For businesses impacted by the pandemic, I encourage you to continue to lean upon your community and stakeholders. For communities in developing countries, reach out to supporters abroad. Though many of us have been negatively impacted by this pandemic, I have seen a surge and influx of people wanting to support struggling communities. For budding entrepreneurs, aligning with the fair trade movement is essential. You are building an ethical business that operates with integrity. You are impacting lives. Daughters of Cambodia
Phone +855 77 657678
Address #63, Street 456, Toul Tompoung, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
(near the Russian market)