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)
Posted March 19th 2012
By Zack Gross
Manitoba can boast that its Liquor Control Commission now carries thirty-two Fair Trade Certified Wines, more than any other jurisdiction in Canada. There are three hundred FTC wines available worldwide. This strong commitment supports fairer wages and better working conditions in the wine industries of South Africa, Argentina and Chile. And the world is moving on to new products such as fair trade beer, vodka and rum!
Just as with the production of cocoa products and sugar, wine has been cited as a brutal industry for those who work in its bottom rungs. People are paid almost nothing for backbreaking labour, sometimes actually just being paid in product. This leads to alcoholism, spousal abuse and many other social and health problems. As well, poorer, smaller wine producers who have tried to market their brands in competition with larger companies have not done well as they are often left with the worst land and oldest machinery. They may treat their personnel better but don’t achieve the taste consumers want or the reach to find new customers.
In South Africa, some co-operative farms have been able to crack the global market, an example being the Fairhills project, which is working with eleven farms. This initiative is yielding social and economic results as fair trade licensing fees can be paid and funds can be invested in numerous community projects, such as clinics, child care centres and adult education and training programs. Fairhills products can be bought at our Manitoba Liquor Marts. Another South African fair trade wine co-op, Du Toitskloof, supports over 1200 people, with almost all having their own homes with running water and electricity, not always “normal” in impoverished rural areas.
In Argentina, La Riojana co-operative is currently the world’s largest certified organic and fair trade wine producer. Its wine production activities in remote rural villages has led to the building of schools and water facilities, and the same benefits have resulted where fair trade wineries have been set up in Chile. These operations have just achieved their fair trade certified status over the past four to eight years and, after serving an apprenticeship of taking critical comments on taste, their products are now qualifying amongst critics and connoisseurs to be promoted and served in Europe and North America.
As yet, Manitoba doesn’t sell fair trade beers and spirits, but it is not far off. In the UK, Freeminer organic and fair trade beer uses ethically produced Demerara sugar along with organic malt and hops. It has won several British beer awards. Mongozo beers, one a Premium Pilsener, along with four “exotic” beers (flavoured with mango, quinoa and other tropical delights) are now available in twenty-four countries, and have also won international awards. Mongozo, in its promotional materials, tells consumers that it purchases ingredients from farmers in developing countries at a fair price and uses many organically certified ingredients as well. In all, there are some ten different fair trade beers available in the world today.
FAIR.Spirits is a European distillery that boasts of having the first fair trade certified vodka and liqueurs. Their vodka is made of quinoa, an ancient Latin American grain known for its good health properties, and their two liqueurs are Coffee and Goji Berry. Goji is a super fruit berry, loaded with antioxidants and handpicked by monks in the Himalayas…seriously! The Coffee Liqueur is made with fair trade coffee harvested in the volcanic mountains of Huatusco, Mexico and sweetened with fair trade cane sugar.
Says Jean-Francois Daniel, co-founder of the Fair Trade Spirits Company, “When you drink our vodka, you are helping Bolivian farmers earn a living wage and have enough left over to invest in their communities. When we buy their products, we’re not giving them charity. We’re just making sure that they can sell their crops at a decent price.”
The poor South American country of Paraguay is the home of one of three fair trade rums now on the market. This white rum benefits eight hundred sugar cane farmers in that country who receive a fair price and a cut of the total sales. Marketed by different companies and in different countries as Papagayo and Utkins rum, it is available in North America, Europe, Australia and Hong Kong.
Wines, liqueurs, vodka and rum are relatively new means for producers in poor countries to farm environmentally, be fairly paid and offer fair wages and safe working conditions, and to market their goods internationally outside the dominant corporate system that doesn’t take their needs into account. As Sheila Nash, an MLCC Product Ambassador enthuses, fair trade products taste good and are competitively priced. Our province is committed to offering fair trade options in its Liquor Marts and recognition and interest is growing. Manitobans are willing to give fair trade a shot!
Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of over forty international development organizations active in our province.