Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Show Your Love With Fair Trade

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Sunday, February 10/08

Zack Gross

Valentine’s Day, this coming Thursday, February 14th, marks the start of a campaign called the “One Month Challenge.”

Fair Trade Manitoba, a coalition of church and labour groups, international development organizations, community associations and businesses, are calling on Manitobans to consume “fair trade” rather than conventional coffee, tea and chocolate for thirty days, beginning on that date.

Last year, in a pilot effort, about three hundred folks participated in the first One Month Challenge.  This year, it is expected that thousands will be involved, as large sponsors are anchoring the Challenge, including Assiniboine Credit Union, the Manitoba Nurses Union and the United and Anglican churches.  Various activities are will take place throughout the province to launch the Challenge and keep it before the public eye.

Valentine’s Day is a particularly appropriate time to kick off a fair trade campaign.  The “skinny” on fair trade is that it refers to products that bring their producers, often co-operatives and communities, a fair return and offer safe working conditions and environmental protection.  The products associated most with Valentine’s Day, chocolate and flowers, are two of the worst offenders when it comes to global trade, labour and environmental concerns.

Like the movie “Blood Diamond,” one could produce a sequel called “Blood Chocolate.” Cocoa is grown largely in West Africa and is harvest by children sold into slavery and worked until useless or dead. 

The Ivory Coast produces about three-quarters of the world’s cocoa.  Poor children are bought from their parents on the promise of getting a job and an education, and being able to send money back to their families.  They are then marched from all over West Africa to work in cocoa plantations, where they receive little or no wages, and are worked heavily in hot conditions for twelve or more hours per day.  

Fair trade chocolate is purchased from smaller operators, often again co-operatives, with the inspected certification that there is no child labour, and that people work reasonable hours at locally fair wages.  Organizations such as Save the Children and UNICEF are active in publicizing child slavery in these situations and offering programs that allow young people to go to school, rather than lose their childhoods. 

Cut flowers come to our shops from similar working conditions to chocolate.  While people in Africa and Central America do want employment, these jobs again offer over-work and unsafe conditions, plus exposure to agrochemicals without protection.  As well, in a time of climate change and water shortages, the process of growing cut flowers is using up good land and emptying aquifers in order to export luxuries, while local people often go without enough food.  

In Kenya, currently the scene of political corruption and social unrest, whole lakes have been significantly reduced in size to irrigate the cut flower industry.  Petrochemicals are then used up and emissions are spread as these flowers are flown around the world to be supplied to shops before they wilt.  Fair trade cut flowers are now available in some Canadian markets, but not yet in Manitoba.

You can find fair trade chocolate in a growing number of locations for your Valentine’s Day shopping delight. 

In Brandon, Ten Thousand Villages, the Marquis Project, Two Farm Kids and other locations are stocking it.  As well, fair trade teas and coffees are readily available, should you decide to take on the One Month Challenge.  Fair Trade products are no longer just a snobbish specialty item available in a few shops.  Sobey’s, Safeway, Superstore, Shoppers Drug Mart, Starbucks, Costco and other large firms are getting on the bandwagon.

The other negative factor, cost, has also been reduced as supply of fair trade products in our market increases.  Conventional brands are still cheaper, but the gap is narrowing. 

Stacey Toews is Manager of Level Ground Trading, Canada’s largest fair trade coffee supplier.  While in Manitoba recently, he said that consumers need to realize that if they are not prepared to pay a little more for their coffee, tea, sugar, rice and other food products, Third World producers and workers will always live in poverty.  This situation will continue to destabilize our world, through disease, conflict and environmental destruction.

To learn more about Fair Trade Manitoba and the upcoming One Month Challenge, check out FTM’s web site at

People are invited to sign up as groups, families or individuals.  Posters, brochures and other materials are available through the web site or at participating offices, stores, churches or organizations. 

Those who get involved will receive weekly email surveys to track their progress through the Challenge and information on fair trade principles and commodities.

Valentine’s Day is all about love.  You can express your love for a special individual and all of humanity, at the same time, with fair trade chocolate or other products.  And you can use that momentum to take on the One Month Challenge. 

It’s a good way to begin the changeover to a more socially and environmentally oriented lifestyle.

Zack Gross is program coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), a coalition of 36 international development organizations active in our province.

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