Recent years have seen intolerable suffering for women in the conflict-ridden country of Sudan where they have, systematically, been victim to violence and rape.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) sought ways to empower women in this troubled country. They looked at ways of creating employment opportunities, since women would be less vulnerable with greater independence, self-sufficiency, control of their lives and, of course, dignity.

As they sought ideas for women in business, they discussed the growing of hibiscus. This is plentiful in Sudan and is an ingredient used in tea products of fruit tea blends.

There was a problem with hibiscus business initiatives, however. While Sudan is renowned for producing high quality hibiscus for teas, around 18,000 tons a year, many Sudanese hibiscus farmers have remained caught in the poverty trap.  As hibiscus growers put it, “We produce the crop, then the traders come and take it on their terms.”

UNDP Sudan (3)It was a situation calling out for a Fair Trade overhaul.

A staff member from UNDP therefore posted a request on business.un.org. She asked for interested companies, dealing in hibiscus, to come together and discuss how to make trading practices fairer for the farmers. Some of the world’s leading businesses responded and the result was phenomenal. People from different levels of the hibiscus industry came together and brought significant change. This will impact the futures of at least 5,000 vulnerable women and girls in Sudan by, for example, seeing factories in Sudan becoming Fair Trade certified to ensure sustainable income for those involved.

This is a story that truly illustrates the power of partnerships!

Crossroads Foundation Hong Kong

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