One industry, one voice
23 November 2011Politics
Mr Mark Oaten, Head of IFTF, is about to introduce some landmark changes in the organisation. He wants to bring the trade and the producers closer together, turn IFTF into a much stronger political lobbying organisation and implement a new communications strategy.
He was amazed by the beauty of the fur material and he was touched by the proud industry that he met. But Mark Oaten, 10 months the new CEO of the International Fur Trade Federation (IFTF), also met a divided industry where trade and producers are split up - and that calls for a change.
- I think that the trade and the producers should merge. I would like to see that we start quote ourselves as one fur industry, and that we don't think of ourselves as farmers or retailers. It is really important that we speak to the media and to the politicians with one voice, Mark Oaten says. The 47-year old Brit has been headhunted to lead the comprehensive reform work in IFTF which was sealed at the General Assembly meeting in September, when the producers (farmers) and the trade were represented equally on the IFTF board. It is a key task to the 'new' IFTF to strengthen the political lobby work, and as a former member of the British Parliament for the Liberal Democrats, Mark Oaten knows that a united industry has a stronger case.
- The politicians are confused if they receive different messages from the industry. I used to be a Member of Parliament, and it would really annoy me, if an industry sends four or five different parts of the industry to meet me. I would say to them: "Why can't you just come together and give me a clear message?". It is really important that the politicians consider us as one fur industry, not as being trade or producers, says Mark Oaten.
What are the messages?
- Fur is doing really well during a recession, so one of our key messages is that we are an economically successful industry creating jobs, and politicians shouldn't put that at risk. Secondly, fashion is embracing fur like never before. Fur is appearing on the catwalks with some amazingly beautiful designs and fur has never been more popular in terms of designers throughout the globe. Thirdly, we will focus on our improving welfare standards. I personally want the IFTF to do more to help raise standards, particularly in some parts of the world where they are not as high as they are in Europe. I am really committed to make sure that we are tough on farms that don't respect standards.
What does that mean, to be tough?
Norway recently expelled a farm, and I think that was the right thing to do. If we are to persuade the politicians that this industry is able to regulate itself, then we have to show that we have teeth and that we can take tough decisions, if somebody fails to meet the standards. If that means expelling a farm, then we should do that.
All members are important
Under the leadership of Mark Oaten, IFTF will encourage member organisations to get involved in more political activity and raise the profile of fur with national politicians. This happened last month, when IFTF launched the international lobbying month. The aim is to move the fur industry to "the front foot rather than the back foot".
- What I mean by that is that we get involved politically too often, when there is a problem. I want us to be involved all year around engaging with politicians, making them visit shops and farms and inviting them to fashion shows on a much more regular basis, Mark Oaten says. He acknowledges that the fur industry is diverse and that some countries have strong organisations, while other countries are somewhat weaker. No countries however, are to be left out of the loop.
- We can't ignore small countries with small memberships, as a problem in a small country affects the whole industry. They are also important countries and we must meet the demands of resources sometimes, Mark Oaten says.
Another important part of the IFTF reforms is the implementation of a new communications strategy. This includes a strengthened focus on social media as well as traditional media, but some restructuring is needed in order to carry out the communications strategy.
- IFTF, as a global body, has often tried to cover the whole world, and it has been very difficult, not to say impossible, to have a global message on all sorts of things. We need to restructure, Mark Oaten says. The idea in play is to introduce four IFTF regions counting North America, Europe, Eurasia (Russia and the -stahns) and Asia. Mark Oaten underlines, however, that the possible regional offices are some time ahead and has yet to be approved by the IFTF board.
- We are starting to do the regional stuff bit by bit. The North American Communications Group and a European Communications Group are being established. So we have started thinking along the lines of doing things regionally, but the longer term issue is to restructure the industry so that it thinks of itself in regions. The other big thing is bringing the producers and the trade together. I am really pleased that EFBA (European Fur Breeders Association) and IFTF have opened a joint office in Brussels. We can be much more effective when we meet with civil servants and politicians in Brussels, because when they meet with us now, they can talk about everything from a seal ban to welfare standards to textile labelling rather than having separate organisations. There are so many advantages of working together.