News Update

Environment, Social Causes Play a Role in Holiday Giving

Posted December 10th 2010

It’s that time of year again! A recent market study, done by eBay Canada, showed that more that one quarter of working Canadians have considered, or actually have called into work with the “holiday shopping flu”. Many consumers told the survey that their jobs, and even their families, got in the way of needing to get their shopping done. Of course, the on-line retail companies, through, argue that you don’t need to avoid your office or your home! You can shop from the comfort of your computer terminal and, unless your co-workers or your family members are shadowing you, no one will be the wiser and everyone ultimately will be the happier.

Whether you shop in person or on-line, celebrating the holidays in a greener and more socially conscious way has become a much more mainstream act in recent years. Our decorations are “greener”! Over a third of Canadian households now use LED (light emitting diode) lighting rather than the conventional incandescent bulbs, and municipalities across the country have developed programs to compost or recycle the large volume of trees, wrapping and packaging that comes with the season. Of course, if we avoided some of our consumer habits, we might not need those programs!

To reduce the cost of the holidays and to show one’s love in deed, rather than in dollars, many people now give homemade gifts or gifts of time and effort (babysitting, house cleaning, snow shoveling). Craft fairs have become major events and an alternative to malls and web sites. A trend that we are all participating in, with our difficult economic times, is getting people what they need or would normally buy themselves. In our family, rather than purchasing something “special”, we take our children clothes shopping or for supplies they need for school or work.

Fair trade, buy local, green and organic products are now part of everyday life. They are all pieces of the puzzle of ensuring people’s livelihoods, at home and overseas, while protecting the Earth. Whether one purchases a craft or food products made in Manitoba, or fairly traded coffee or handicrafts from a developing country, the consumer knows that the impact on the primary producer will be to support their dignity and their family.

You may choose to support small businesses or individual entrepreneurs. In some locations, where only the big company product is available, you still have a choice. When purchasing, for instance, a Cadbury’s chocolate bar, buy the Dairy Milk or Thins variety with the Fair Trade Certified logo. These will benefit cocoa and sugar farmers in Ghana and avoid the use of child labour. Thanks to a program implemented by the United Nations and Cadbury, 350 million fair trade chocolate bars are circulating in the marketplace.

In Brandon, the major sellers of fair trade products are Ten Thousand Villages and the Marquis Project, both located downtown. Both of these organizations have forged long-term relationships with communities overseas and support their development through project work and product sales. As well, many grocery and other retail chains have joined the fair trade movement in recent years, especially in food items. On-line, fair trade and globally oriented products are available from the New Internationalist, JustShirts, Jolica and many others – just Google “fair trade shopping”.

As well, many families now give gifts of donations to international development agencies, getting a tax receipt for their generosity and offering very meaningful presents to loved ones. You can purchase gardening seed and supplies or some livestock (cows, goats, chickens) for a family or community in a developing country, or a school or health kit aimed at children or mothers, or a small business starter loan through a variety of agencies. These include World Vision, Canadian Lutheran World Relief (CLWR), Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) and several others.

Or donate, in someone’s name, to a group working in disaster relief in one of the world’s trouble zones (Haiti, Pakistan, Sudan), be it the Red Cross, Doctors without Borders or Save the Children. My wife’s parents gave each of their dozen grandchildren a donation to UNICEF for a mosquito bed net, to be used to stamp out malaria, one of the world’s greatest killers of children.

The gifts that you give during the holiday season are a representation of who you are. More and more, we are becoming aware that our consumer power is another way that we can bring about a better world. Have a good “holiday shopping flu” season!

By Zack Gross, originally published in the Brandon Sun newspaper on Sunday, December 12, 2010.

Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of forty international development organizations active in our province.

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This program was made possible with financial support of the Government of Manitoba,
and was undertaken with the financial support of the Government of Canada provided through Global Affairs Canada (GAC)

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