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The Guardian: Shell and M&S plan trade aid for Africa

The Guardian: Shell and M&S plan trade aid for Africa

“Marks & Spencer and Shell are to form an unusual partnership aimed at reducing poverty in Africa by encouraging local commercial ventures.”

Terry Macalister

Tuesday July 5, 2005

Marks & Spencer and Shell are to form an unusual partnership aimed at reducing poverty in Africa by encouraging local commercial ventures.

The two companies are to cooperate in a supply chain strategy that will see the Shell Foundation – the charitable wing of the oil group – invest $1m (£570,000) in local flower and fruit growing enterprises.

Research by M&S released today shows that 60% of the public believe British business is not doing enough to help African nations with their wide-ranging problems. And 80% of those interviewed believe trade – as much as the aid issue highlighted by the Live 8 concerts at the weekend – offers the best way to fulfill Africa’s potential.

One of three projects will see flower growers on the Agulhas Plain in South Africa given help to serve a growing demand in British stores for indigenous bouquets.

Over the coming year M&S and Shell employees will be lending advice and expertise to the growers to help them run their businesses more efficiently and profitably.

The companies claim 3,000 South Africans living in poverty will be helped by this scheme.

As well as giving better job security, the project will help to protect a fragile eco-system where the wild plants are harvested. The farm around which the scheme is based was bought by the charity Flora and Fauna International to preserve its biodiversity; there were plans to turn it into a vineyard.

Kurt Hoffman, director of the Shell Foundation, said this scheme, called Trade for Good, was a new and more enlightened way of approaching the issue of development aid.

“It’s about demonstrating that businesses have a big role to play in development and that engaging with small suppliers in the developing world can be a win-win: good for business while helping to eradicate poverty,” he said.

The oil group came to M&S saying it had plenty of potential projects but was finding difficulty getting access to western markets, according to Mike Barry, head of corporate social responsibility at M&S.

“We have been able to provide this because our customers are clamouring to buy more flowers harvested from the wild but suppliers had not got the capacity to provide them,” he explained.

M&S sells “standard bouquets” for £5.99 based round the red Protea, the national flower of South Africa.

Another scheme that is part of the same initiative with Shell will help orange and bean growers in Morocco.

M&S already sources products from Africa including coffee from Ethiopia, fruit juice from Ghana and tea from Kenya – some through Fairtrade arrangements.

Mr Barry denied there was any attempt to use the current interest in Africa through the G8 meeting of ministers as a vehicle to win publicity. He said: “The timing is just serendipitous.”

A formal announcement will be made by M&S chief executive Stuart Rose at a gala dinner of Business in The Community tonight.

Meanwhile Sir Richard Branson said yesterday that business had been sidelined for too long in the African development debate.

“This was, I believe, a mistake. A thriving private sector is the engine for growth of any economy creating employment, stimulating economic activity and generating tax revenues,” he told a conference organised by the United Nations-sponsored, Bending the Arc forum.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/story/0,,1521403,00.html

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