8 Mar 2022

Partnering for equality: How Fairtrade and Aldi UK are elevating the fight for women’s empowerment


When it comes to building a greener, fairer, and more sustainable future, women are the key drivers of change. And in the Fairtrade community, where more than half of the 73,000 workers on Fairtrade certified flower farms are women, ensuring female empowerment and gender equality is not just the ethical thing to do – it’s smart business.

That’s why Fairtrade and Aldi UK have joined up to launch the Dignity for All initiative – a three-year project financed, in part, by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swedish Post Code Lottery – with the aim of empowering female flower workers through professional trainings and equal career opportunities.

“We believe that by addressing the challenges female workers face in supply chains and supporting gender equality, we can promote greater diversity overall and support safer and more inclusive supply chains,” explains Liz Fox, National Corporate Responsibility Director at Aldi Stores Limited. “Through working together with Fairtrade, we are demonstrating our commitment to improving gender equality and women’s empowerment.”

But gender equality is not an end in and of itself. According to the United Nations, women make up a large percentage of the agricultural workforce in rural communities around the world and are overwhelmingly represented in the world's food production. This means that women are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change but also have an astounding potential for climate action.

To mark this year’s International Women’s Day and the winding down of the Dignity for All collaboration, we caught up with Liz Fox to discuss how Fairtrade’s partnership with Aldi UK is delivering results for women flower workers and ensuring that the road to a more sustainable tomorrow passes through gender equality.

Thank you for chatting with us, Liz. In 2019, Aldi UK committed £200K in funding for the Dignity for All Project focusing on flower farm workers in Ethiopia and women’s empowerment. What prompted Aldi to embark on this effort?

We know the significant role female workers play in agricultural labour worldwide. We were aware that female workers in lower income countries may face a multitude of disadvantages when it comes to working conditions and remuneration, as well as equal opportunities - and that this is exacerbated further where women have limited access to training and support programmes and are under-represented in management or leadership positions.

This is a reality even in supply chains where women make up the majority of the labour force - and the flower-growing industry is a good example of this, with women representing as much as three-quarters of its workforce.

We source our Fairtrade Flowers from several farms, including Herburg Roses PLC, in Ethiopia. With Aldi already having an economic impact in the Ethiopian community through our sourcing of Fairtrade flowers, and the experience of the Fairtrade Foundation, it was very clear that Aldi’s commitment would have a sustainable impact, not only for female workers, but on the whole community, as knowledge sharing is a key component of the Women’s School of Leadership we support.

Gender equality is a key pillar of Fairtrade’s value system. What does Aldi hope to achieve through its efforts in the Dignity for All Project?

Through the Dignity for All Project, more female workers are becoming aware of the importance of having female representatives on the various committees throughout the farms. With greater gender equality in representation, we hope they are better able to influence decision-making structures, to improve labour conditions and relations at the workplace.

The stories of some of the Ethiopian flower farms’ workers who have successfully graduated from the Women’s School of Leadership Programme show how much self-confidence these workers gain through the programme, having developed skills and acquired knowledge that makes income diversification and leadership roles more attainable for them. Our hope is that the programme’s impact is scaled up across flower farms in Ethiopia as the graduate cohorts share their learnings and continue to raise awareness of gender issues.

The project is going to end this year. How successful has the initiative been?

The Dignity for All Project has been a great success. Flower farm workers report enhanced awareness of their rights and a greater understanding of gender equality, gender-based violence and sexual harassment. ​

Two cohorts of flower workers have graduated from the Women’s School of Leadership, having completed training modules to support them to become leaders at work and in their communities - women such as Meseret, who has used her newly gained business management and saving skills to start a sheep-breeding business. Meseret describes how the training has not only built her self-confidence but also transformed her understanding of gender equality; learnings she now shares with others in her household and community.

Aldi UK is one of the largest retailers of Fairtrade roses in the UK and the only British retailer to source Fairtrade flowers from Ethiopia – a longstanding partnership that has matured into the Dignity For All collaboration. What makes Fairtrade and the Fairtrade values so compelling for a retailer like Aldi?

We want to make sustainability affordable to our customers. As part of this, we are committed to, amongst other things, respecting all human rights and to making every effort we can to improve the living and working conditions throughout our supply chains. We are focusing on increasing transparency by assessing and evaluating conditions under which products are being grown or produced. Whether it is through the implementation of audits and training, collaborating in projects on the ground or engaging in larger initiatives, we always strive to find new ways to sustainably improve the lives of our supply chain workers and their families.

We have found Fairtrade to be an ideal partner, not only because of the vast experience you have working on the ground, but also because the emphasis Fairtrade places on giving farmers and workers influence and control through representation committees. Having a voice in decisions that affect their working and living conditions will empower them and puts their rights and needs at the heart of our efforts. This is ultimately where we want to make a difference.

Why does Aldi feel it is important to maintain the Fairtrade collaboration on gender equity?

As Aldi UK is a proud signatory to the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles - and working towards fulfilling our commitments to each of these through our dedicated Corporate Responsibility and Diversity and Inclusion policies - we aim to support the advancement of women and gender equality internationally. Through working together with Fairtrade we are demonstrating our commitment to improving gender equality and women’s empowerment. This collaboration has also helped us increase our knowledge on gender equality issues, which we can then use to support this agenda throughout our supplier network.

How important is it for consumers to connect their purchases with meaningful, on-the-ground impact?

We know that our customers expect us to offer ethically sourced products and it is in our DNA to deliver the greatest possible value - with values. By buying Fairtrade products from Aldi, such as flowers from Ethiopia, our customers can be confident that their purchase will have a positive and meaningful impact on workers in the supply chain.

How does Aldi translate the impact of Dignity for All into inspiration for those customers buying Fairtrade flowers?

Telling the inspirational stories of those who have participated in the Women’s School of Leadership is important to us, and we are proud of the impact that we have had through our partnership with Fairtrade. We have shared these stories with our customers on our Fairtrade flowers packaging, on shelf and in our leaflets, as well as on our social media and webpage. It is particularly important to communicate these stories to our customers around Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day and International Women’s Day, so that our customers are aware of the impact our Fairtrade products have in the communities we source from and are inspired to choose Fairtrade!

Graduates from the Women’s School of Leadership were also featured in a display at Chelsea Flower Show in 2021, inspiring customers and members of the public with Aldi’s Fairtrade flowers and our support for gender empowerment in Ethiopia.