Cecilia Appianim from the village of Asentem in central Ghana has a message for U.S. consumers: "Buy more of our chocolates, and our lives will change more," says the middle-aged woman with an infectious smile.
Appianim is a cocoa farmer and owner-employee of Divine Chocolate, which is a grower-organized co-op of some 52,000 participants. Divine has a democratic structure and is committed to fair trade principles and ethical, sustainable production.
"Before I was not able to take my kids to school, and now I can," says Appianim. "We have put up schools, clinics, toilets, and clean water," she adds. Besides receiving stabilized, minimum-guaranteed payments for their cocoa, Divine farmers earn dividends, and many have gotten agricultural training.
Appianium also proudly pointed to her beautiful, colorful batik dress and handcrafted necklace as examples of how reinvestment in the community has led to founding of new local industries.
Appianium was on hand in New York City to help introduce a collaboration with one of the Internet's strongest and most recognizable brands. Browsers to eBay's WorldofGood.com can now find Divine Chocolate and other ethically produced goods at the click of a button.
Perhaps the most exciting news about WorldofGood.com is that every item listed in the virtual marketplace is pre-vetted, so there's a kind of firewall against would-be greenwashers, scammers, forgers and other unscrupulous opportunists. An eBay spokesperson explains that the vetting is done by third-party trust partners (examples include the well established TransFair USA, Co-op America and Aid to Artisans). The spokesperson notes that the four categories of "goodprints" include "people positive," "eco positive," "animal friendly," and "supports a cause."
WorldofGood.com is essentially an eBay microsite, with the auction giant's robust tech under the hood. Buyers have to have eBay accounts, and sellers have to apply for the right to set up shop there. Feedback earned stays within the microsite, which launched earlier in September with 10,000 products and 100 approved sellers.
The name of the site comes from eBay's partnership with World of Good, Inc., which is just over a year old, and which already had the mission of bringing fair trade handicrafts from the developing world to a wider market. The company had already been donating 10% of its profits back into redevelopment of source communities. But as the spokesperson explains, "World of Good didn't really have an online platform, and so we're adding the power of eBay."
WorldOfGood.com's general manager, an upbeat Robert Chatwani, explained that the goal was to empower eBay's 84.5 million users to "not only shop for great products, but for the story behind them, and to have a benefit to people and the planet." According to Chatwani, an item's WorldOfGood.com status isn't currently reflected in the corresponding listing on "regular eBay," though he pointed out that savvy sellers have already begun including green and social info in the description boxes. Chatwani says the company is currently testing different ways to mesh the branding of the microsite and the larger eBay community.
WorldOfGood.com can be seen as the next step to eBay's Giving Works program, in which users can offer up anything for sale and donate a specified amount of the proceeds to the nonprofit of their choice. To date $151 million has been raised for some 15,000 organizations (and experience shows consumers are more likely to click "buy" if part of the proceeds are earmarked for causes they care about). The program also shares some philosophical roots to MicroPlace, eBay's pioneering forum for microfinance.
So far, some critics have complained that the start-up requirements for sellers on WorldOfGood.com may exclude some poor artisans. However, it should also be noted that the barrier to entry is purposefully designed to weed out those who would cut corners. As with the USDA organic food program, there must be a balance between oversight and verification and removal of bottlenecks to commerce. Time, and the community, will hopefully strike a level of equilibrium.
It may not have occurred to you at first to look for chocolates (Divine or otherwise) on eBay, but it makes a lot of sense when you consider that an estimated half of WorldOfGood.com's users are expected to be looking for gifts. Getting your sister some fair trade, handmade earrings and bracelets? A beautiful drum for your uncle, or unique home furnishing for your boss or next white elephant party? Why not throw in some gourmet chocolates, for others and yourself.
According to Chatwani, "We don't necessarily want people to shop more, just shop better." That would probably be all right with Cecilia Appianim from Ghana.
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