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PS Hållbar Utveckling

June 15, 2010

I always feel a bit weird when Big Companies ‘do the right thing’, like BP selling Fair Trade coffee in their petrol stations, or IKEA working with UNICEF to empower women in rural India through paying them properly.

My husband, when we talk about it, often says “Yes, but if you think about it, if a multinational company chooses to support a cause, like fair trade coffee, they will make such an enormous difference compared to the local cafe doing the same thing.”

True. I just get a funny feeling, because If you KNOW how to do the right thing, then why don’t you do it all the time?

If you understand the importance of fair wages and organic production, how can you even be in a business that regularly devastates river deltas with oil spills and air pollution, making farming and fishing impossible? And if you recognize the need for sustainable development and fair working conditions, how can you keep using cheap labour (because if something costs 99 cents, I think it’s a pretty safe bet that someone is not getting paid) to produce chipboard furniture so full of toxic glues that they can’t be recycled and of such poor quality that they will end up in landfill before the end of the year?

I just don’t get it. I’m pretty idealistic, I know. Some would even say naive.

Anyways, last year or the year before super-talented Dutch designer Hella Jongerius was commissioned by IKEA to create wallhangings for the IKEA-Unicef programme, which helps women in India to start up small sewing businesses and enables their children to go to school – I’m sure you’ve seen them.

“As a consumer you like to have something unique, something with character, and to really enrich a piece like that, you have to do it by hand” she says about the hand embroidered pieces, now part of IKEA’s designer collection PS.

According to IKEA, this cooperation with the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will enhance the social, economic and political empowerment of women in 500 villages in Uttar Pradesh. At least 50,000 women (yes! Such is the power of IKEA!)  will be encouraged to become entrepreneurs, contribute substantially to their household income, strengthen legal awareness and participation in local political decision-making processes. Through this program, UNDP will help women by training them in good financial practice, help with access to micro credit loans and equip them with business skills. In addition, women will get more advanced literacy and leadership training in order to take on a catalytic and decision-making role as village leaders in institutions of their local community.

I love it! Beautiful wall hangings, an appreciation of the work of the hand, empowered women. But just imagine the kind of change – real change – that IKEA could make if they applied these ethics to all their production. Monumental.

(If you’re interested in what other positive steps the home-maker giant is taking you can read about it here.)

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