Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Fair Trade Businesses Introduced to Manitoba Landscape

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column,  Monday, March 7 / 16

Zack Gross

Winnipeg hosted the Fourth Annual National Fair Trade Conference February 18th to 20th.  It was an event they said “couldn’t be done”!  Yet it was a huge success that garnered lots of media coverage, attracted 400 participants from around the world and opened up our province to a growing economic sector, Fair Trade business.

Why did “they” say it couldn’t be done here?  Organizers were told that Manitoba is too cold in the winter to attract a large audience.  There was indeed one potential speaker, based in Colombia, South America who just laughed when invited, saying he would prefer to come in the summer.  However, as it turned out, we had spring-like weather that made sidewalks and roads slippery but had people wearing jackets instead of parkas!  

Conference staff was told that nothing would be gained by holding the Conference in Winnipeg – certainly no business would spend the money to be represented.  Instead, the fact was that many companies participated, large and small, from distributors such as Aramark, to chains such as Federated Co-ops, to 100% fair trade importers of coffee, tea, tropical fruits, sugar and other products.

Certifiers and fair trade licensing organizations were there, both Canadian and American.  Larger scale procurers attended such as representatives of the Provincial Government, Crown Corporations, conference venues, economic development specialists, a number of cities and municipalities from around Manitoba as well as from across Canada, school and campus groups and a large delegation of students and adults from Quebec.

Fair Trade Certified products offer a guarantee that producers and workers receive a fair wage and work in environmentally clean and safe places.  The fair trade system prohibits child labour, promotes co-operatives and aims to improve the earnings and relative power of women in the workplace.  Most fair trade products are tropical, coming from the poorest countries on our planet.

This year’s Conference was called “Building Momentum” as fair trade has enjoyed unprecedented gains in public knowledge and sales, particularly in Manitoba.  Keynote speakers included Tukwini Mandela, granddaughter of Nelson Mandela, whose family owns a fair trade wine company in South Africa.  As well, Beny Mwenda from Tanzania, well known to Brandon people, spoke at the conference.  Beny’s organization, the Tanzanian Society for Agricultural Education & Extension, has been strongly supported financially by Brandon-Westman organizations, churches and educational institutions for the past twenty years, with many local people also going overseas to offer their help in person.

Past national conferences were held in Calgary, Toronto and Montreal and the Canadian Fair Trade Network is looking for a host committee for 2017.  Vancouver people huddled after this year’s event to consider hosting the next one and what they could do to top the 2016 success!  As the Lower BC Mainland is home to many fair trade companies, site visits might be the focus for one Conference day next year.

The Prairies are as yet a largely untapped market for fair trade goods.  What has been for years a niche or specialty market has quickly become mainstream, especially in the large population provinces such as BC, Ontario and Quebec.  While Manitoba is the leading Prairie province in fair trade, shipping from ports such as Vancouver and Montreal to here causes an added cost to products and, of course, many of these importers and companies also don’t have offices here for promotion.

Sessions at the Conference plus a trade show to wind up the event led to a lot of deals being made as Manitoba merchants and global importers and processors met.  Many of the companies, not having been to Manitoba before, came a few days early or stayed an extra day to get out and visit stores to show their wares.  Follow-up to the Conference has already begun with organizers being invited to meet with companies in Winnipeg to begin to help promote the new fair trade products that they are carrying.

Brandon was not ignored during the Conference.  A large contingent representing
The Marquis Project, Ten Thousand Villages and the City of Brandon attended with Mireille Saurette speaking to the Conference at an evening session about current activities and future plans for fair trade in Brandon.  Both Mireille and the City of Brandon, with became a Fair Trade Town in 2014, have received national awards from Fairtrade Canada.

You can find more on this subject by checking out
Fair Trade Manitoba and Canadian Fair Trade Network. Specifically on fair trade in Brandon, go to The Marquis Project

Zack Gross is a former Executive Director of Brandon’s
The Marquis Project an international development organization, and was an organizer of this year’s national fair trade conference.

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