Shared Interest Society Limited is a fair trade financial co-operative based in the United Kingdom formed in 1990. Today it provides credit and financial services to fair trade producers, retailers, importers and exporters throughout the world. Shared Interest works with both Fairtrade International (formerly known as Fairtrade Labelling Organizations (FLO)) and the World Fair Trade Organization(WFTO). In 2004, the Shared Interest Foundation was formed as a charitable subsidiary, providing training and support services to producers, complementing the financial services offered by the Society. Shared Interest received the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in 2008.
Shared Interest was the brain-child of Mark Hayes, then an investment banker with 3i, now an academic economist at Cambridge University, who was the first managing director from 1990–1999. Inspired by the success of Traidcraft in harnessing socially responsible investment for the finance of fair trade, Hayes approached Traidcraft founder Richard Adams in 1986, beginning a collaboration that culminated in the formation of Shared Interest in 1990 as a special form of co-operative saving and loan society.
The initial £100,000 funding (subsequently repaid) for the launch of the Society came from Traidcraft, Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, and a similar co-operative established in 1975 in the Netherlands, now called Oikocredit. However the creation of Shared Interest was finally made possible by the action of SIAL (Scottish Churches Action for World Development Investment Association Limited), an Oikocredit Support Association, who provided the first 200 members and £300,000 of capital. Oikocredit was Shared Interest’s main channel for lending in its first five years.
Once Shared Interest had reached a capital of £4 million (1994), a planned transition took place to establish its own lending business by the creation of a clearing house with what is now the World Fair Trade Organization, to finance directly fair trade between the Global North and Global South and increasingly within Southern markets themselves. Shared Interest continued to support Oikocredit by the issue of loan stock until 2005, after which Oikocredit established its own UK office.
Shared Interest Society Limited
The Society is incorporated as an industrial and provident society, a legal structure similar to a building society or credit union. Its membership is almost entirely composed of UK individuals (some 11,000 in 2018), who invest withdrawable share capital (£28.2 million in 2011), which is used to provide credit facilities to organisations engaged in fair trade. The society had 34 staff (2012), mostly in the UK, with established regional offices around the world.
The Society is unusual in having a council of ordinary members as well as a Board of Directors. Both bodies are elected; the Council acts as a select committee which scrutinises the work of the Board. Furthermore, a majority of the members of Council are nominated for election by a process of random selection, similar to jury service, in the interests of wider participation.
Shared Interest Foundation
In 2004, Shared Interest Society Ltd. established a subsidiary charity, to provide business and financial management training for fair trade organisations, as well as grants to support individual organisations and the fair trade movement as a whole. To date, the Foundation’s work has been funded largely by donations from the Society’s members.
The nature of the financial requirement
International trade and production involves long processes which take much time. For example, many months elapse between the sowing of a crop in the tropics and the final purchase by a consumer of a finished product in a European supermarket. The money laid out at each stage of production and distribution is called working capital. For smaller producer organisations to access international markets on terms consistent with their independence, if at all, requires access to working capital, by both producers and fair tradedistributors, beyond what is available from banks. Normally this extra working capital would come from profit-maximising shareholders in some form or from accumulated past profits. Shared Interest provides unsecured finance, similar to trade credit. Shared Interest can do this only because its own members are prepared to accept the risk of loss on their investment in Shared Interest, and to accept the limited and currently lower financial returns resulting from the high costs of dealing with emerging organisations in the Global South.
The finance mechanism
The diagram illustrates the lending process:
- The order is placed by a buyer (e.g. a coffee importer) with the producer (e.g. a coffee farming co-operative)
- Shared Interest makes an advance payment on behalf of buyers to the producers
- The producer is able to borrow an additional amount against that order to cover their expenses
- The goods are delivered
- The final payment is made to the producer; the buyer re-pays the credit provided by Shared Interest
- ^Chapter 5 of Nicholls, Alex and Opal, Charlotte (2005) Fair Trade: Market-Driven Ethical Consumption. London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi: Sage Publications ISBN 1-4129-0105-7
- ^Moore, Geoff (2004). “The Fair Trade Movement: Parameters, Issues and Future Research”. Journal of Business Ethics. 53: 73–86. doi:10.1023/B:BUSI.0000039400.57827.c3.
- ^Supplementary material from the published and audited Directors’ Reports and Accounts for the periods ending 30 September 1990-2006, filed with the Registrar of Friendly Societies at the Financial Services Authority.
- ^:: The Queen’s Award for Enterprise :: Archived 2012-03-27 at WebCite
- ^WorldAware Award (1998)
- ^“Changing Lives across the Globe”. Shared Interest (homepage). Archived from the original on 19 February 2018.
- ^Mackenzie, C.; Lewis, A. (1999). “Morals and Markets: The Case of Ethical Investing”. Business Ethics Quarterly. 9 (3): 439–452. doi:10.2307/3857511. JSTOR 3857511.