Local Cambridge Business Supporting Local

Is there a better way to do business in a world of precarious work?

That’s the question being asked by a new coalition called the Better Way Alliance — and for entrepreneur Helmi Ansari, whose great local company distributes tea product across 30 nations, the solution is a resounding yes.

The head of Cambridge-based Grosche International forms part of the initiative drawing on a mix of private companies, non-profits, and charitable organizations across Ontario. It strives to increase awareness through an effort about the business sense of paying a living wage, encouraging scheduling and encouraging tasks where potential — all since the provincial government believes legislative changes.

The message from this bunch of leaders is simple: being good is good for the bottom line.

“If our staff is focused on how they are going to put food on the table and also the way they’re going to pay the hydro bill, they aren’t going to be really engaged in the business,” Ansari says.

For Ansari, it was a journey which began by selling loose leaf tea door-to-door, once he returned home from his day job as a business executive with a large business. Together with his spouse, Grosche International climbed to a tea merchandise provider whose clients include Bed Bath and Home Outfitters & Beyond.

In the crux of his fantasy was constructing his own company to function as “a force for good,” a vision he and his wife Mehreen Sait revived through secure drinking water initiatives in developing countries. It was on one such improvement trip — this time to South Sudan — that a colleague asked what he had been doing to help people nearer to home.

The query kindled something in Ansari.

“I stated, if we’re trying to do some thing for the entire world, we have to do exactly the identical thing for our team,” he recalls.

His firm, that employs a dozen people, became the very first multi-site business in Ontario to pay a living wage — the hourly rate amount a worker needs to earn to support a family above the poverty line, given the real costs of living in a particular area. Ansari pays all his Cambridge employees and contractors over $16.05 an hour, while the minimum rate for his Guelph employees is $16.50.

Cambridge business minimum wage is currently set at $11.40, a guess workers’ rights and anti-poverty activists such as the Fight for $15 Coalition say is too low to maintain families afloat. The Toronto Star has also profiled the effect of work on problems including mental health.

The approach improved by the Better Way Alliance isn’t without detractors. In the USA, where many jurisdictions executed steps and have bumped up the minimum wage and paid day provisions, critics have warned of job reductions and loss of productivity. Closer to home, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has urged the government to ensure any job law reforms considered as part of their so-called Changing Workplaces Review don’t unduly limit companies’ flexibility and growth.

However, Kelly Watson, director of development and people to Muskoka Brewery, that is part of the Better Way Alliance, says her company — and community — have benefited from implementing a living wage because of its 125 workers.

“They are more engaged, they’re spending more money on healthful meals, they’re spending more money connecting socially with the neighborhood. To have that full-time occupation, to get that money coming to the community on a regular basis really helps those tiny businesses,” she says.

“(Our achievement) would not have been possible if we did not have engaged and dedicated people working for us,” adds Ansari.

While Ontario’s Changing Workplaces Inspection won’t think about a minimum wage hike, Ansari says he expects the new coalition of businesses who have willingly implemented changes such as a living wage can help foster a wider discussion about ways to tackle futile work.

“These are all things that we still have some work to do on as a society. The part of the business is not just to serve society,” he states. “I feel that the role of business will be to help create a stronger society.”

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