Some of Britain's biggest food and clothing retailers and suppliers gather today (23 October 2008) at the Ethical Trading Initiative's tenth anniversary conference in London.
They are joined by people involved in ethical trade from around the world - from factory managers in Cambodia and banana growers in Colombia to South African garment workers' unions and homeworkers' rights champions in India.
On the agenda are driving ethical trade through an economic downturn; the UK Government's vision for ethical trade and backing for ETI's Ethical Pest campaign; and how retailers, suppliers, trade unions and NGOs are collaborating to develop new approaches to ethical trade.
Says Dan Rees, Director of the Ethical Trading Initiative, "Recent events in the global economic crisis will benefit our cause because the principles of ethical trade - which demand business transparency and accountability - will be higher than ever on corporate agendas."
Merchandise Planning Director at ASDA Jon Wragg, and New Look Executive Chairman Phil Wrigley, who are speaking at the conference, both echo this view.
Says Jon Wragg, "With high levels of awareness of these issues in the media it means that shoppers are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential threat to humanity that unethical sourcing poses.
"Despite economic pressures on consumers and retailers offering basic and value products to help hard working British families, it is important to us as a business that we retain our ethical values even through these tough times.
"ASDA has always been committed to doing the right thing and we recognise that we have to a role to play in protecting the welfare of workers globally. We also believe we should share responsibility in this effort with other retailers as well as organisations like ETI."
Says Phil Wrigley, "In this uncertain market with the credit crunch seemingly unresolved, the recession squeezing consumers - whose confidence is at rock bottom - and many businesses are under very real pressure, it's easy to imagine that the commitment to ethical trading might slip. It might not be seen to be "affordable". But should trading with integrity and doing what's right be dependent on good times or when it's financially convenient?"
James Harding, Editor of The Times Newspaper, will challenge thought leaders in the field to outline their strategies in facing the key ethical challenges of the next decade - pushing ethical trade to the centre of business practice whilst recognising workers' rights and promoting a living wage through the supply chain - against the background of current economic uncertainty.
Ahead of the conference ETI carried out a survey of its corporate members which showed that retailers did not rate "the credit crunch" as a top three factor in blocking progress in ethical trade. Rather they viewed lack of action by developing country governments; buyer impact and capacity on the ground as the top three factors.
The Ethical Trading Initiative is a not-for profit alliance of companies, trade unions, charities and campaigning organisations. Our 52 corporate members, which include many of the UK's leading retailers (Tesco, Sainsbury's and Marks & Spencer to name a few) have a combined turnover of over £107 billion; dedicate 404 staff to ethical trade and last year instigated 54,000 separate actions to improve worker conditions among a 38,000 supplier base, collectively touching the lives of more than 6 million workers.
Contact Julia Hawkins at ETI on 0207 841 5180 or firstname.lastname@example.org