Manitoba Consumers Vote with their Dollars
Sun “Small World” Column, Monday, June 29 / 15
“my day” (I've now been a senior for more than a year!), people
were voters and donors. Much larger percentages of the
public exercised their franchise at the polls (that is, they
voted) at each and every election (municipal, provincial and
federal). And people donated their hard-earned dollars to
causes they supported or bought memberships in groups they could
Today, it is hard to get 50% of the population out to vote, and
while donations continue to come in when a disaster strikes
locally or globally, the upward curve has levelled, especially
among the younger generation. It has to be said that Manitobans
continuously compete with Newfoundlanders for the title of “most
generous” Canadians but the trend in our country as a whole is
that volunteerism and generosity are under fire.
Today, people under 40 are focused on consumption. The
mall or big box store is where they feel most at home. Where
this trend works to the advantage of those seeking a better
world (and that is what generosity and citizenship are all
about) is when consumerism and altruism collide, such as with
fair trade. A common slogan for buying ethical, green and
even buying local is “vote with your dollar”!
The progress made by the fair trade movement is a testament to
this slogan. There are now 21 Fair
Trade Towns and Cities across Canada, including Gimli
in Manitoba, with Winnipeg
seemingly soon to join that group. After just announcing
the national Fair
Trade Schools program, three high schools, including Stonewall
Collegiate here in Manitoba, have met the criteria and
several will take that step when classes resume in the
fall. There are 10 Fair
Trade Campuses in Canada with many on the cusp, including
at least two in our province.
And it isn't only activists that see the connection between
buying the goods that they need and want and bettering the lives
of farmers and workers in developing countries. Business
is not only getting on the bandwagon, but in many cases is
leading the charge. Whether you are The Fresh Carrot, a
health food and fair trade shop in Gimli that is expanding with
a store in Winnipeg that will boast a fair trade coffee bar and
flower & gift shop, or Cadbury's that has now expanded to
five different fair trade certified chocolate bars, including
their most popular Diary Milk Bar, altruism and self-interest
are driving business to fair trade.
Fair Trade Fridays, a tradition with many Brandon businesses,
was partly why the city won a national Fair Trade Award last
year from Fairtrade
Canada. Businesses whose sales are 100% fair trade have
been calling for, and are now planning the launch of a Canadian
Fair Trade Chamber of Commerce. This will be a great
support for those wanting to enter the fair trade market in
Manitoba, as currently most such businesses are centred in BC,
Ontario and Quebec. For instance, a Fair Trade Certified
coffee roaster would do extremely well in our province as to
qualify to become a Fair Trade Town, School or Campus, FTC
products need to be widely available.
These sectors and initiatives will come together next February
when the fourth annual national Fair Trade Conference takes
place for three days in Winnipeg. Producers from
developing countries, for instance a handicrafts maker from
Guatemala in Central America, will be there to talk about the
challenges faced by the poor in our world and how fair trade
works to alleviate that poverty. Business people will be
there to find out how to market their fair trade products, how
to get them certified or how to expand their offerings.
Advocates will be there to share experiences in making their
towns, cities, schools, campuses and events “fair trade
Ultimately, people will be there to share a concrete and
positive way to help people and the environment through the
products we buy.
There is no question that Canadians, and people in the rich
world in general, consume too much. It is said that if
everyone consumed like us, we'd need four planet Earths.
We use too much oil and power in general. We buy too many
things that are over-packaged or break easily and are thrown
out. While tens of thousands die each day from the effects
of poverty, disease and war, we spend money that could alleviate
those situations on ice cream, cigarettes, cosmetics, soft
drinks and pet food.
If we really are addicted to shopping, to consuming, to living
it up beyond what is sustainable, can we divert people to fair
trade, green, local and other more appropriate products, and
make it worthwhile to towns, businesses and institutions to
participate? The answer, from the way the fair trade
movement is growing in Canada, is Yes.
Zack Gross is a former
Executive Director of the Marquis
Project in Brandon.