Social Conscience: the Fair Trade of sports balls [interview]
James Milligan is the owner of Social Conscience Fair Trade Sports Balls. The Vancouver-based company has been responsible for the promotion and sales of Fair Trade sports balls throughout the Vancouver area as well as across Canada. The company will also have a table at the upcoming KidSport Fair Trade Soccer Match and donate soccer balls to the match. It’s all happening this coming August 28th (read more about the event).
I contacted James recently to learn more about his work with Social Conscience.
B: What is Social Conscience about?
J: Social Conscience is really about empowering people in the fight against poverty, both locally and globally. Locally, fair trade soccer balls and other sports balls like volleyballs and basketballs, empower people through their choices in the products they buy which in turn will help families in Pakistan raise their standard of living. Globally, the fair trade premium on each ball goes directly to the employee’s fund. This empowers workers against poverty by giving them access to various social programs like basic health care and education. So by simply choosing a different brand of a product we may already buy, we can have a greater impact on the lives of others and engage in the fight against poverty.
Why buy Fair Trade?
Buying fair trade sports balls makes a lot of sense because the model ensures there is no child labour in the production of the balls, and the workers are guaranteed a minimum wage. Further, as I mentioned there’s a premium on each ball which is paid out to a separate bank account held by the employees. Further still, in my dealings with the factory, I am not allowed to barter with them as the prices are set by Fair Trade International, and I have to pay 100% up front before anything leaves the factory. So it’s a model which is not only fair to the employees and guarantees no child labour, but it is also fair to the producer which allows them to run a sustainable business.
Specifically with soccer, Sialkot, where the majority of the world’s soccer balls are made, has been producing 10’s of millions of soccer balls annually for decades. But sadly, when you look at the communities in this region, they do not look as though they have received much of the economic wealth that is attached to this level of production. Balls are made for a few bucks and sold for several times that, most of which goes into fuelling marketing campaigns for the major brands. It is another reason to support the fair trade model because it means there is no exploitation of the great work done by the Pakistani people, and a better distribution of wealth.
Last, I would like to make a point about the leveraging power of the fair trade model. The premium we pay on each soccer ball is shockingly small in the context of our economy. But there is nearly a 100 times variance in the value of our Canadian dollar to that of the Pakistani rupee. So it becomes an incredibly powerful tool, similar to that of micro-credit. ($1 Canadian dollar is equal to 88 Rupees.)
How is Social Conscience involved in the KidSport Fair Trade soccer Match?
Social Conscience will be donating all the balls for the match, as well as giving some as prizes throughout the event. I’ll also have a table there so people can come by to check out the fair trade soccer balls and ask me questions.
How does Social Conscience look after youths around the world?
Well, I don’t know that I look after youth around the world, but I do have a program with another local organization called OA Projects. (Means “Equal Opportunity” in Latin. www.oaprojects.org) They are a Vancouver-based grassroots not-for-profit organization, which uses soccer as a platform to re-connect with youth in the war-effected town of Gulu in northern Uganda. Since 2010 we have been fundraising to support them by providing fair trade soccer balls for their programs. We sent 100 balls in 2010, and recently sent another 100 balls in the Spring of 2011. If people are interested to learn more, there is lots of information, including photos and a journal of my trip there in July 2010 on my website. (www.social-conscience.com) We are proud to be supporting OA Project because their work is consistent and ongoing. This is their third year in Gulu and such a commitment ensures longevity to the impact of their work.
We have a 1 for 1 Program which allows customers to support OA through the purchase of a soccer ball. When customers buy a 1 for 1 ball, we donate a second ball to OA’s work in Gulu. Buying a 1 for 1 ball is great because not only are customers getting a great ball for themselves, but they’re also buying into the fair trade model, thereby helping people in Pakistan, as well as allowing Social Conscience to donate a second ball to youth in Uganda. It’s a win-win-win scenario!
What can people do to be more socially conscious?
Wow, this is a big question! I think one way people can be more aware of their impact on the global picture is by asking more questions, particularly with where and how their products are being made. Buying locally is great, but this just isn’t the reality for most of our products today. So what do you do? It is important to ask questions, get informed, and hold producer’s to account by voting with your wallet. The truth is, most of our products are made somewhere else, in conditions unknown to us. The fair trade model allows us to have some transparency and accountability to the way in which the people are treated in the production of our products. I think that’s one way to be more socially conscious.
What are you looking forward to most at the Soccer Match?
Last year was the premier event so I’m excited to see how this year’s event has evolved. It’s also great to chat with people about fair trade and expand their knowledge on the issues behind our products. I think that’s the biggest win for events like this one.