News | Published May 17 2020

Shared Earth founder writes to MPs over post-Covid-19 priorities

Jeremy Piercy is the founder and managing director of Fair Trade and eco business Shared Earth. As the UK charts its course through the Covid-19 storm and out of the other side of the pandemic, Piercy, along with other members of the company, believe that the government must appropriately consider the future of small retailers and rebuild the economy with the climate crisis in mind. To this end, he has written to roughly 100 cross-party MPs to share his thoughts.

Shared Earth is a company with shops in both York and Liverpool. Despite its modest size, it has over 1,500 wholesale customers, selling largely to independents and some small retail chains and is notably is Oxfam’s largest gift supplier.

Should that come as a surprise, the growth of the business tells a remarkable story. For seven consecutive years its turnover has increased by over 30 per cent, going from £360,000 in 2013 to £2.7 million in the last financial year.

In Piercy’s view, the key to its success is the concern that the business has for the environment and wider world we live in. As he wrote to the MPs, he outlined two main concerns.

The first of these was that small retailers such as Shared Earth are “considered in an appropriate and realistic manner”. The second was that as the UK rebuilds, it does so with “the climate crisis in mind” as foreign secretary Dominic Raab has already promised.

Piercy called upon MPs to consider the economic effects that Covid-19 has had on developing countries. Indeed, Shared Earth has already been proactive by setting up funds in aid of disadvantaged communities in India, Kenya, and Uganda.

Piercy wrote: “I would also ask you to spare a thought for the economic effects of Covid-19 in developing countries where government help is minimal, and lockdown means many millions of people can’t earn anything to feed their families.

“Our suppliers in Bangladesh are already speaking of famine. We are raising money for vulnerable families in India, and to help the spread of Covid-19 in Kenya’s slums by providing community hand-sanitisers and face masks.”

Addressing the issues that small retailers are currently grappling with, Piercy stressed that existing social distancing rules could make it unfeasible for many to operate ‘safely’.

“Most independent shops are small; we don’t have car parks to queue in, and the streets outside are often narrow. Social distancing, applied as so far suggested, would make our businesses unviable; for many of us, our sales could decrease by 50 per cent or more; a drop of just ten per cent or 20 per cent would make survival impossible for some.

“We are in exactly the same situation as trains, planes and public transport. In small shops, social distancing is almost impossible.”

Piercy added that many small retailers would willingly provide face masks freely for customers to wear in shops and on public transport, as well as providing hand-washing facilities outside their premises to help prevent infection.

Piercy took the opportunity to pay tribute to the government’s business support measures thus far, while highlighting that the small businesses that the government has fought so hard to protect, now needs further help, in a form which will not come as a financial burden.

“Small shops are essential to the high street and to the UK economy. The support we have received so far, including with business rates and the furlough scheme, has been excellent. We applaud the government for this.

“As the lockdown eases, we need help which costs nothing – a realistic approach to social distancing.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab announced on April 28 that as the threat of Covid-19 subsides, responsible government should constitute “investing in industries and infrastructure that can turn the tide on climate change, and it means doing all we can to boost resilience by shaping economies that can withstand everything that nature can throw at us.”

At the time, Raab stressed that the climate dialogue was “not some distraction from the immense challenges that the pandemic presents, but an essential element to our strategy to rebound from it.”

However, despite this statement, Piercy feels that consideration for the climate crisis in the government’s recovery plan was visibly absent.

He told MPs: “We applaud all who support this outlook, whatever party they belong to. But in the government’s recovery strategy plan yesterday, climate issues were not mentioned at all, and sustainability only in an economic sense.

“We believe this is an ideal opportunity to move towards a society which is not so dependent on fossil fuels. Many jobs can be created, in green technology, insulation, infrastructure etc. The next crisis, potentially far larger than coronavirus, will be the climate crisis.”

With regard to the climate crisis, Piercy urged MPs to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of tackling it head on.

“The UK has the opportunity to take a real lead on this – it’s been described as our ‘man on the moon’ moment. Will Dominic’s words be followed up with action? I hope that you, as MPs, will do all you can to ensure that they are.”

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Authored by

Alexander Bridge-Wilkinson
Junior Editor
May 17 2020

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