To move beyond subsistence-level farming, agricultural communities within developing countries often seek out export markets as a means to increase revenue and fuel local economies. Notable success stories have shown what’s possible. In Ethiopia, for example, chickpea production increased dramatically in just four years, with earnings from export increasing from $1 million in 2004 to $26 million in 2008.

In the best of circumstances, when U.S. or European companies purchase their raw materials from developing countries, the people living in those countries can see enormous benefits – increasing incomes, improved local services, greater food security, and more. Under other circumstances, corporate sourcing can have catastrophic impacts on local communities and ecosystems.

Many corporations choose to work in partnership with non-governmental organizations that seek to improve working and living conditions for people who are impacted by corporate sourcing. Mercy Corps, for example, has worked for over a decade with its partner Tazo (now Starbucks) in the private tea estates of Assam and Darjeeling, and the families living there who have been cultivating tea for generations. With the support of Starbucks, Mercy Corps has been able to provide the workers and their families with education, vocational training, and other important services.

Perhaps one of the most notorious commodities sourced today is palm oil. To assist the palm oil industry in adopting practices that “help avoid deforestation, peat development, and exploitation of workers and communities,” The Forest Trust (TFT), has developed an online platform.

Read more about the future of sustainable sourcing at Global Washington.