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 January 21st 2014
The Canadian Fair Trade Network, which represents thousands of people working in fair trade businesses, sitting on fair trade school, campus and town committees, and connecting fair trade to their work on behalf of poor nations in the Global South, met in Toronto this month for its second Annual General Meeting and three days of discussions, planning and celebrating the success of the fair trade movement.
Manitoba is recognized as a leader in the Canadian fair trade movement and there is excitement nationally that Brandon is “that close” to becoming the province’s second fair trade town, after Gimli. Mireille Saurette, who works at Assiniboine Community College and has championed fair trade on behalf of the Marquis Project, Ten Thousand Villages, Two Farm Kids and other fair trade shops and organizations, was present in Toronto from Brandon. She spoke passionately about how Brandon businesses and groups are “making a difference” in developing countries by promoting increased sales of fairly traded food products from Africa, Asia and Latin America.
Gimli recently erected what is estimated as the largest Fair Trade Town sign in Canada on Highway #8 and Gimli Park Road. It’s health food store, the Fresh Carrot has won a national fair trade award for selling an array of products including fairly traded roses at Valentine’s Day 2013 and again coming up next month. Other Manitobans recognized as fair trade leaders include Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries for carrying thirty fair trade certified wines and Ten Thousand Villages for decades of development projects, volunteerism and excellent handicraft products.
The most common fair trade product, of course, is coffee, accounting for 70% of fair trade sales in Canada. Others include teas, sugar, chocolate bars, cocoa, hot chocolate, dried fruit, spices, jewelry and handicrafts. The national CFTN meetings included a wonderful fair trade expo with a roomful of booths set up to display everything from fair trade soft drinks and juice to sports balls and medicinal herbs.
Brandon is line to become Canada’s eighteenth fair trade town with Ottawa also in the running. Other communities working on this status include Thunder Bay and Guelph while the most recent additions have been Toronto and Edmonton! A committee is hard at work locally and an application will be submitted soon with a hoped-for spring date for the happy announcement.
In Europe, there are hundreds of fair trade towns while the US has about double the number we have in Canada. In September last year, 200 mayors from around the world, including Paris, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro and Seoul, signed a declaration urging the United Nations and world leaders to make fair trade a part of the new Millennium Development Goals being established for 2015 and beyond.
The UN’s Fair Trade Advocacy Office estimates that there are two million fair trade producers in the world, coming from sixty different countries. There are dozens of recognized fair trade labelling initiatives and hundreds of specialized importers. Ultimately, there are over 3,000 fair trade shops in the Western World supported by some 100,000 volunteers. A new sign of the progress made by the fair trade label is that one can now buy fair trade products not only in Europe, North America and Australia, but also in the developing world, including countries like South Africa and Brazil, who are now producing and selling their own fair trade products internally.
Fair Trade Campuses currently number six in Canada with many others working on the designation to the point where forty will not be hard to achieve! While there are none in Manitoba at this time, students at Brandon University have had preliminary discussions to look at taking this on. McGill, Simon Fraser and the University of British Columbia are three of the current fair trade campuses.
In all these cases, to become a fair trade town or campus means to ensure availability of fair trade products as an option for consumers, to have the support of councils and administrations that hold political office, and to deliver educational programs that explain what fair trade is all about – fair wages for producers, environmental controls in production, funds earned set aside for community projects (clinics, schools, training) and support for cooperatives and community groups engaged in the production.
The businesses behind fair trade are growing too. At the Toronto event, larger corporate entities made themselves visible along with smaller family and organizational ones. As an example, Van Houtte coffee, part of the Green Mountain, Timothy’s and Keurig group, was handing out bags of coffee beans, getting the 150 conference goers to try their fair trade K-cups, and trying to connect the passion and idealism of most fair traders with their own corporate savvy.
Sales of fair trade products are growing twenty to thirty percent annually in most Western countries, but it is still a niche market. The hope is that events like this and the developments in towns and cities like Brandon and Gimli will ensure that the fair trade movement continues to grow.
Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of over forty international development organizations active in our province.