April 01, 2013
About Direct Selling, Horse Meat and Politics
by Maurits Bruggink
European Commissioner for Entrepreneurship Michel Barnier with Seldia Executive Director Maurits Bruggink at the European Parliament earlier this year.
Earlier this year, hysteria and panic followed the finding of horse meat in some “beef-labelled” burgers and lasagnas in England. Uproar and consternation in the wake of this scandal led to a sweeping mistrust of mincemeat [British English for hamburger] an average Englishman would consume on a daily basis, having enormous repercussion for both industry and economy.
As direct selling representatives, we have to be vigilant, making sure our “beef” is not only held to the highest standards, but also protected from those attempting to stain the industry’s image through unethical trading practices. As it took only one rogue slaughterhouse to damage the food industry’s image and scare consumers, it could take one deceiving direct selling company to cause problems for Europe’s entire sector.
The direct selling sector in Europe will continue to vigorously fight companies that do not comply with the World Federation’s Code of Ethics. As a well-regulated sector, we can claim more fitting regulations and build on the already well-established consumer confidence. It is a true testament to the direct selling industry as a whole, and to the Code of Ethic’s insightfulness and diligence in particular, that the turnover grew by over 8 per cent in 2011, with similar statistics expected for 2012.
Due to Seldia’s efforts, direct selling is recognised as a form of entrepreneurship that can help Europe out of the economic crisis. Entrepreneurship has not always gotten the recognition it deserves on the Continent, but times are changing and government and citizens both realise that the State can no longer guarantee jobs or prosperity. Entrepreneurship has become a part of the solution.
Seldia is able to highlight its spirit of entrepreneurship through one of its unique characteristics: 84 per cent of all direct sellers in Europe are women. At the same time, only 30 per cent of all entrepreneurs in the EU are women, a figure that politicians want to see grow. There is therefore a widening interest to learn about the prospects that direct selling has to offer, as illustrated by the exhibition on Women Entrepreneurs organised by Seldia at the European Parliament earlier this year.
The exhibition attracted over 500 participants and was partnered with 25 women entrepreneurship organisations. Throughout one week, politicians at all levels learned about the issues facing women entrepreneurs and the opportunities that direct selling has to offer. Now that entrepreneurship is at the forefront of EU institutions’ agendas, it is the right moment to work with them to reduce the red tape and tax rates, recognise the status of independent direct sellers, promote direct selling and work on training and education.
Over the last three years the European market had a positive growth despite the economic crisis. However, our sales figures are still well below those of the United States. Sales in the European Union are around US$ 17.5 billion, compared to almost US$30 billion in the US. The difference in number of direct sellers is even bigger, with 4.7 million in the EU, compared to 15.6 million in the US. With the current climate in favour of entrepreneurship, the European direct selling figures are bound to increase further, something which will only happen when we successfully target unethical trading practices undermining our market.
Maurits Bruggink is Executive Director of Seldia, the European Direct Selling Association.