Scott James and his family founded Fair Trade Sports, a company providing premium quality sports balls stitched by adult workers, paid fair wages, and ensured healthy working conditions. Fair Trade Sports offers guilt-free soccer balls, rugby balls, volleyballs, and hip apparel. Scott and his family are devoted to helping at-risk children around the world. 100% of Fair Trade Sport’s after-tax profits go to children’s charities. Scott previously worked as director of marketing at Pura Vida Coffee, a sustainable, fair trade coffee, tea, and cocoa company. Fair Trade Sports helps Scott fulfill his mission to "Help others."
Green Options: What gave you the idea or motivated you to launch Fair Trade Sports?
Scott James: My passion is fighting extreme poverty and the problems caused by it. Fair Trade Sports is built to generate after-tax profits for children’s charities, from a Fair Trade foundation (e.g. adult workers – not coerced children – paid fair wages and ensured healthy working conditions). It also helps that I believe in the Fair Trade model and I’m a lifelong soccer player.
SJ: (Laughing) It starts with having no marketing budget! We don’t need to support multi-million dollar marketing campaigns and sports star’s paid endorsements; instead, we ask our customers and champions to spread positive word of mouth about our mission and our quality products. True word-of-mouth is a great fit for any green business – just think of the resources you are saving (e.g. the trees needed and transportation costs for a direct mail postcard).
GO: Why are 70% of the world’s soccer balls made in Pakistan?
SJ: According to a myth, the sporting goods industry started in Sialkot, because an English man broke his tennis racket and, since an immediate replacement was not possible, he asked a local to repair it. The man did a perfect job, and the sports goods manufacturing industry took root in Sialkot.
Recorded history of the industry goes back to 1895 when the city started becoming famous for its tennis racquets. By 1903, cricket bats were being crafted from imported English willow and exported to different parts of South Asia and beyond. In 1922, one Mr. Syed, was awarded the British Empire Export Award for supplying footballs to the British Army. Over the years, the industry grew to include a variety of wood and leather-based sports equipment, and diversified into related industries such as sports apparel and riding equipment and even the Scottish bagpipes.
GO: Have you ever visited your manufacturer Talon in Pakistan?
SJ: Not yet; several of my business partners have multiple times. I started this company while my wife was pregnant (perhaps not the best timing). We just had our daughter a few weeks ago, so I expect to go sometime soon. I’ll take a video and photo crew to capture the story of our workers there.
GO: What is considered a living wage in Pakistan?
SJ: 4X the standard wage paid to adults.
GO: How are you assured that fair trade practices are utilized in the production of your merchandise?
SJ: FLO does unannounced spot checks of facilities and records for compliance. Their documentation is fairly complete.
GO: Fairtrade Labeling Organizations International (FLO) states that child labor has been "virtually eliminated" from this industry; however, you do not agree. Please explain.
SJ: The FLO document that makes that incorrect statement is still a good overall document on the positive programs happening at Talon, including their medical program – a first in the sporting goods industry in Pakistan. However, child labor has definitely not been "virtually eliminated" from the industry…not even close. Anyone can Google "Nike and Saga Sports" to see a long, repeated history of failures in this area.
GO: How can you afford to donate all of your after tax profits to charity?
SJ: Like Newman’s Own (the salad dressing and popcorn brand), we’re committed to giving away our "after-tax profits". Keep in mind that after-tax profits are defined as what’s left over after you pay items like salaries, utilities, and of course, your raw inventory. Each year, we’ll also retain a small portion of our proceeds to fund the following year’s growth (likely ~10%).
What’s left over usually gets distributed to shareholders. Given that my wife and I are the sole shareholders, and we are not interested in making Fair Trade Sports a wealth-generating operation, we decided to funnel the after-tax profits towards children’s charities. We expect to reach profitability in late 2007. Until then, we are donating $1000 annually to these organizations to benefit at-risk children worldwide.
GO: Can you describe some of the charities you donate to?
SJ: Yes, right now we donate to Room to Read (international children’s libraries) and the Boys & Girls Club of America. The idea is to help at-risk kids both here in the states and the communities where we source our sports balls.
GO: I love the alternative sleeve t-shirts! These shirts are produced by independent trade members. How do independent trade unions provide a solution to sweatshops?
SJ: The tee shirts are hip, for sure. The alternative sleeve gets alot of double-takes from people when you walk down the street. Everyone should check out USAS (http://www.studentsagainstsweatshops.org/) as well as the ILRF (http://www.ilfr.org/). Just a little bit of reading will show you a world of alternatives out there to sweatshops, as we’ve used for our tee shirt line and new technical training shirt line.