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Doing good by doing business

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Veronica Hannon with Jo Fairley – Veronica won ten bars of Green & Blacks chocolate by asking the best question, about happiness in businessVeronica Hannon with Jo Fairley – Veronica won ten bars of Green & Blacks chocolate by asking the best question, about happiness in businessLouisa Davison reports from The International Women's Day Conference for Wiltshire Women in Business.

"It makes you frikkin' angry, doesn't it?" So said company owner, Safia Minney, of the Dharka clothing factory collapse back in 2013 which killed 1,100 sweatshop workers.

Safia, founder of ethical clothing company People Tree, was answering a question posed to her by one of the 200 women-only attenders at the International Women's Day Conference on Friday.

She was one of four guest speakers - three successful business women and a sports woman - for whom ethical product provenance forms the basis of their business.

Safia set up People Tree twenty-four years ago when Fair Trade was something only found in churches and organic cotton was little known. Today the brand is world-wide and can trace back the clothing to the seeds that grow the cotton.

People Tree deals in a 'restorative economy' where everyone benefits along the supply chain; from the cotton farmers to the artisan cottage industry-style producers and their families, the company, the retailers, the consumer in an excellent healthy product and the environment in lower emissions and improved eco-system.

Women are the majority beneficiaries of People Tree, with 56 per cent in leadership roles and 75 per cent of producers.

Juliet DavenportJuliet DavenportAlso concerned with equality in the workplace was Juliet Davenport, CEO and founder of Chippenham-based Good Energy. The company has an even split of gender as board members and 54 per cent in the rest of the company.

In common with the three speakers, a guiding principle for Juliet is that her company is a leading light in its industry, in this case renewable energy, throwing (sun)light on how the UK could declare its independence on fossil fuels and nuclear power.

It has topped several Which polls for customer service and has an excellent relationship with its customers. "We raised two million pounds floating on the stock market, but raised 15 million in two and a half weeks offering shares to our customers," she told us.

Not many companies can claim to have God on their side, but Jo Fairley's product saw young Methodists taking to the streets and ministers haranguing Tesco to stock it. The product was Green & Black chocolate: the first organic, 70 per cent solids, Fair Trade chocolate.

With a life-long green streak, Jo cites one of her inspirations as her friend and Body Shop founder, the late Anita Roddick, whose motto was 'doing good by doing business'. "A much overlooked quality in business is kindness...it doesn't mean being weak," she said. "There is a huge power in generosity," she continued, advising us to give away our product, as it will reap rewards in publicity and goodwill.

Jo was full of top business tips. A 'superb product twinned with design flair' were the most important things to a business, particularly one aimed at the consumer. 'Be flexible' and 'live in the solution not the problem'. Accept that when you start a business you will be cash and time poor - for a number of years - one of the main reasons business owners become disheartened.

Jo didn't give up her day job; running out of cash is a major problem for start ups, especially where money is tied up in stock.

In 2005, Cadbury bought Green & Black, inspiring Cadbury to use Fair Trade cacao beans in their own brand products. She described the dinner where Cadbury was handed to Kraft (a multi-national company without the best ethical standards who bought the company through an aggressive takeover) as a 'funeral'.

But she hopes that their values are also infiltrating Kraft; Jo and her husband and co-founder Craig Sams are both still associated with the company as Green & Black ambassadors.

Stephanie MillwardStephanie Millward"My heart keeps beating to keep me alive so I keep fighting," said Steph Millward, multi-medal winning Paralympian and the fourth speaker.

Steph was well on her way to becoming an Olympic swimmer when she was struck by multiple sclerosis. Inspired by her now-husband she battled through the random effects of her illness to triumph at the 2012 Olympics and other competitions.

Asked if there was anything the audience could do to support her as an athlete, she replied: "One little thing I take as a gift is a smile, so I always smile back."

The International Women's Day Conference for Wiltshire Women in Business was held at Bowood House near Chippenham by Wiltshire Business Support Service and The Enterprise Network.