Good sort: Justin Purser, Food Manager at Trade Aid

Posted by | May 3, 2017 | Career spotlight, Inspiration

Here is one goodie I can personally vouch for, and have had the absolute pleasure of working with. My first role, green from University, was at Trade Aid Importers in Christchurch. In my marketing role, I worked closely alongside Justin Purser, the Food Manager.

For the past 25 years, Justin has worked at Trade Aid Importers (the head office for Trade Aid New Zealand), where he started in a volunteer role, and is now one of the chief do-gooders of the whole organisation.

That fair trade flat white you sip is highly likely to be thanks to Justin.  He’s played a huge role in getting fair trade coffee into the New Zealand market, while also working with the growers to support them in striving for fairer prices. And coffee is just one of the many fair trade products he’s helped to bring to NZ –  there is also the scrummy chocolate and the ever growing range of food products that Trade Aid now stocks.

He’s someone who lives his values. When he’s not travelling to exotic locations to met with Trade Aid partners, he’s a sustainability champion –  an avid cycle commuter (and was a great wind break for me on our daily cycle commutes on the Sumner Causeway!) and a veggie gardener extraordinaire.

With World Fair Trade Day being celebrated on Saturday 13 May 2017, and with Do Good Job’s focus on “fair work” this month, it’s the perfect time to hear Justin’s story.

Most people will probably have seen or been into a Trade Aid shop, but can you tell us a bit more about what Trade Aid is all about? 

Trade Aid is a not for profit organisation, founded in 1973. Retailing fair trade products has always been a big part of what we do, but within our role as a fair trade organisation we also import and wholesale fair trade product which gets sold under other brands and through other retailers.

We’re also a development agency. Alongside our trading activities, we carry out education and advocacy work on fair trade and speak out for greater justice in world trade.


As the Food Manager with Trade Aid, what are your main responsibilities?

Firstly, I’m responsible for buying all the food products we import.

This isn’t simply just a matter of us placing and sending orders, but is a process of building trading relationships with the goal of maximising the value we can provide to the small producers we work with.

This process leads us to practices – based on the trust and the knowledge we develop in working with small-scale producers – which go well beyond the simple buying and selling of product at fairer prices.   These include providing interest-free pre-finance and sharing of any profits we make with our trading partners.

We’re also channelling third party funds to them, which enable them to fast-track improvements they seek to make to their operations.

Secondly, I’m the first port of call for New Zealand coffee roasters who are looking to buy green (unroasted) coffee through Trade Aid. Our green coffee program has become a big part of our trading activity, and we now supply coffee to more than 90 coffee roasters.


Being that the theme for April is “fair work”, what does this mean to you in the context of fair trade?

The focus of our work is to support handcraft producers and small-scale farmers in the developing world to improve their livelihoods, who – just like New Zealanders – are striving to earn a ‘living wage’.

These producers – many of whom I’ve had the privilege to meet while travelling overseas – work incredibly hard, and receive very little financial reward for their efforts.

We’ve taken up the challenge of helping them meet their objective of improving their lives by finding a kinder market. This can be as simple as providing them with critical extra income for their products which can help to build a school that their kids can go to, or gain access to really basic medical supplies, or provide their family with nutritious food all the year round.

While they still lack access to so many of what we might consider to be the basic necessities of life, I don’t think we can say that they’re doing fair work for fair pay.

Photo: Justin interviewing, Chafe Jenata primary co-operative, Harrar region

We’ve heard about green-washing, is there a similar problem with fair trade washing? 

Thankfully, in New Zealand I’d say there aren’t too many situations where companies are selling a little fair trade product and making out it’s a big part of their business. Much more common are situations where companies (usually coffee roasters, or chocolate manufacturers) legitimately sell a portion of their range as fair trade, and the remainder of their range sits alongside these products without them trying to make any fair trade claims about it.

 

Tell us your career story, Justin.

Trade Aid has been my career! I started working at Trade Aid’s importing warehouse as a volunteer 25 years ago and I’m still there, albeit in the office now and not in the warehouse which was where I started out.

I could say that what led me there was an understanding I had developed over the course of completing a history degree that the global trading system is biased in favour of the west, and that this situation has come about as a direct consequence of the European colonial era which created a major imbalance of power within that system.  Fair trade, I saw, offered a practical way that I could play a role in addressing the forces that work against the developing world.

What has kept me at Trade Aid have been the fresh challenges that have been presented to me in an ever-evolving role.

 

Why do you care about doing good? 

It’s really hard to say why, I just found that when I was at a very open and impressionable age – during my late teens – there were various influencers (including authors, movie directors and musicians, from Victor Hugo to Spike Lee to Midnight Oil) who really spoke to me with their views on social injustice, and who clearly inspired me towards following a certain path in my life.

 

Who in the fair trade world inspires you? 

I’m always impressed and inspired by Equal Exchange, a US-based fair trade food co-operative. They’re doing a great job of growing the size of their business – and providing ever-growing value to fair trade producers in need – while also inspiring their supporters to deepen their understanding of what is going on in the big bad (and good!) world of trade.

I think we can say we’re really building a better world when we can see evidence – as I think I see happening within the Equal Exchange community – that people in the west are becoming more connected with, and developing more empathy for, the people in the developing world who are supplying them with so many of the great products that they are buying.

 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to do good in their work life? 

Do your best to live out your values through your work life – it’s such a satisfying course to take, I find. Clearly, you need to figure out a little about what field you would wish to work in to do that ‘good’, so you might know which jobs might be a better fit for you.

On a practical level, if you are trying to get a job with a particular company or organisation that fits well with your values be sure you tell them this, either in an unsolicited enquiry (if you want to be considered for any upcoming job opportunities they might have), or in your cover letter for an advertised position.

As an employer, I’m always looking for people who fit with Trade Aid from a values perspective, and these people do not often stand out from the applications we receive.

 

Doing good work can often lead to burn-out, how do you maintain a good work-life balance?

I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to develop a new garden from scratch over the past year or so, which has been both incredibly rewarding and very time-consuming! I’m having no problem leaving work on time at the moment whenever the sun is shining and there is gardening work to do (which is almost every day).

Photo: The start of Justin’s new vege garden! 

How can people get involved and add more fairness to their world?

One very obvious way is to buy more fair trade products!

Another way would be to see if you can get your workplace to switch onto fair trade cafeteria supplies if it hasn’t already – there is plenty of great-tasting fair trade coffee and tea to be had.

For those of you with enthusiasm for fair trade, consider working for Trade Aid! We have plenty of roles coming up every year within our nationwide movement, voluntary and paid, part- and full-time.

Find out  how you can be an agent for change at www.tradeaid.org.nz 

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