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Finding Humanity in Business

Big business oftentimes gets a bad rap, but it’s not always about buy-outs, stock performance, or investors. For over 30 years, Eli Broad College of BusinessPaulette Stenzel, professor of sustainability and international business law, has given Broad students a grassroots perspective of doing global business by opening the college’s doors to some of the world’s most innovative and sustainable companies.

Higher Grounds Coffee
Higher Grounds Trading Company, based in Traverse City, Michigan, carries Maya Vinic coffee as fair trade

Stenzel has spent much of her life in search of business concepts that aligned line with her personal beliefs. She has traveled across numerous countries strengthening connections between the consumers and the producers. Over the years, she has become invested in finding ways to ensure workers have a say in their labor conditions, and to reinforce transparency in company practices.

Today, Stenzel is an advocate of the fair trade business, and a stakeholder within the network of people that operate within these companies.

Paulette Stenzel and Jose Perez Vasquez
Paulette Stenzel and Jose Perez Vasquez, a founder of Maya Vinic Coffee Cooperative

Through her efforts to promote fair trade Stenzel met Jose Perez Vasquez, a founder of Maya Vinic Coffee Cooperative of Chiapas, Mexico. Maya Vinic is comprised of over 500 indigenous coffee farmers who produce over 400 kilograms of coffee annually.

As part of her global business law course, Stenzel invited Vasquez to speak to Broad students for a real-time example of the fair trade practices they’ve read about in textbooks. Vasquez shared his story of 47 members of his community caught in political cross-fire and how the aftermath of the tragedy was founding Maya Vinic Coffee Cooperation.

Benefit Corporations (B-Corporations), like fair trade, focus on the triple bottom line of business because it gives transparency to company’s economic, social, and environmental practices. However, it requires legal accountability of companies to continue fair and transparent practices. “It’s not always about making shareholders money,” said Stenzel, “It’s about the human connection and paying fair wages for the workers,” she added.

Higher Grounds Trading Company is a certified B-Corporation based in Traverse City, Michigan, where Maya Vinic sells their coffee as fair trade. The co-founder of Higher Grounds, Chris Treter, first met Vasquez when Treter was an intern studying abroad in Chiapas. Higher Grounds places QR codes on product packaging so customers can track the travel and origin to which farmer harvested the coffee. “It is all about the human connection,” said Stenzel.

While committed to educating students on sustainable and fair business practices, Stenzel stresses the idea of making sure students find the connection between what companies do, and how they themselves use products. “Live your values, be fair to other people. You can practice your values in business,” said Stenzel.


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