News Update

Celebrations, Royal Rumours Highlight Fair Trade Fortnight

Posted February 22nd 2011

Article for “Small World” Column, Sunday, February 20th, 2011, by Zack Gross

Spring marks a time of promotion and celebration of fair trade around the globe. Manitoba holds the Fair Trade One-Month Challenge from Valentine’s Day onward, while Britain and the countries “Down Under” hold Fair Trade Fortnight beginning February 28th. (Most of our younger or non-British population hasn’t learned that a fortnight is fifteen days!) During the first half of May, the fair trade movement annually holds “fair trade days” and “fair trade weeks”.

Of course, the United Kingdom has a head start on North America when it comes to fair trade, with hundreds of Fair Trade Towns and even greater availability of fair trade products. Canada currently has only fourteen Fair Trade Towns and the US has only marginally more. It is estimated that twenty million people in Great Britain participated in some way in Fair Trade Fortnight in 2009 and thirty million in 2010. Of course, this figure is almost the total population of Canada!

This year, Britain’s slogan is “Show Off Your Label”, getting consumers and merchants to proudly display that their clothing, food, accessories and more are indeed fairly traded. The focus this year is cotton and the need to make the fashion industry more sensitive to human rights.

Late in 2010 in Paris, out of one hundred nominees, Britain’s Fair Trade Foundation received the annual European Business Award that rewards innovation, sustainability and best practices. The Fair Trade Foundation partners with over four hundred corporations to bring its products into the UK market. The Foundation can also point to its many positive social development impacts on Third World communities where fair trade has resulted in reducing poverty, generating revenue for dignified livelihoods, and enhancing health care and education.

Recent research in Britain indicates that two-thirds of their population understands what fair trade means, and one-third shop for fair trade products regularly. Three-quarters of Britons recognize the fair trade symbol when asked, and over 4,500 certified fair trade products are sold in that country. This includes a host of tropical fruits, treats, liquors and clothing beyond what we have in Canada. In our country, and around the “developed” world, the main fair trade goods available are coffee, tea, chocolate products and a smattering of others.

In another, smaller country with a briefer history of fair trade, New Zealand, and one that suffers from high prices due to its isolation, fair trade sales are now starting to grow. In the year ending January 31, 2011, New Zealanders spent $36.6 million on fair trade, more than double the previous year. The largest increase was in chocolate sales, with growth in the 1600% range, thanks to Cadbury’s coming out with new certified fair trade Dairy Milk bars. Coffee is the other big seller in “kiwi” fair trade products. Stephen Knapp, Fair Trade New Zealand’s CEO, says that despite the world-wide recession and rising food costs in his country, kiwi “consumers feel that other people in the world have it even harder, so fair trade continues to grow because it is supporting farmers in the developing world”.

If you’ve been checking Facebook lately, you might know that Third World miners are hoping that Prince William and Kate Middleton will be wearing ethically sourced gold wedding rings when they marry on April 29th. Top British jeweler Garrard, who designed the sapphire and diamond engagement ring for Princess Diana that Kate is now wearing, are waiting to hear from Buckingham Palace if fair trade gold will be used.

In precious metals, developing world miners are often the poorest and most oppressed people on earth, while their products make dictators, corporations and the world’s wealthiest people even more so. The mining of precious metals outside the fair trade system has made miners the victims of environmental degradation, poisoned water sources, lost ancestral and agricultural land, contending government and rebel armies, child labour and more.

A new “fairmined” gold agreement could potentially change this situation, benefitting people in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, and Garrard’s creative director has said: “It would be wonderful if Prince William and Kate agreed to it.” There is no doubting the leadership in social justice that would be shown by the royal couple if they make this decision, and the support they would create for themselves amongst the younger generation who have lost touch with, or become cynical about, the British monarchy.

There are many reasons to celebrate Fair Trade, a movement that has grown significantly in Manitoba, across Canada and around the “developed” world in the past five years. Fair Trade has proven to be one of those “ideas whose time has come”.

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

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This program was made possible with financial support of the Government of Manitoba,
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