Whitehorse could be Canada’s next fair trade town

The dedication of so many in this city of 23,000 souls to the campaign of protecting human rights through fair trading is impressive.

The dedication of so many in this city of 23,000 souls to the campaign of protecting human rights through fair trading is impressive.

At the risk of leaving one out, let’s just say we have a good handful of cafes that sell fair trade coffee exclusively.

Several of them also deal in fair trade chocolate and tea, a few have begun selling fair trade olive oil, and at least one sells fair trade cotton.

At select stores, we can find fair trade sugar, as well as chocolate chips and cocoa for baking. At Christmas, a group of dedicated citizens puts on a fair trade craft sale.

Whitehorse is host to a healthy spirit of fairness and this is reflected in these businesses’ ability to thrive (not that the new Starbucks won’t, but it’ll get a run for its money with two locally owned fair trade coffee shops on the same street.)

There’s no reason, however, for the list of available fair trade consumer goods in Whitehorse to remain so limited.

Fair trade has existed for 60 years.

It began in the Southern US in the late 1940s with Ten Thousand Villages (formerly Self Help Crafts), which bought and sold needlework from Puerto Rico. The first formal “fair trade” store opened in 1958.

According to the International Fair Trade Association, a global network of fair trade organizations, OXFAM was responsible for the growth of fair trade in Europe and the concept of “world stores” had flourished by the late 1960s.

Religious groups and NGOs continued to promote fair trade until it finally caught fire.

Fair trade symbols are now something consumers seek out and the widespread popularity of this alternative way of shopping has enabled a wider variety of fair trade industries to crop up in more and more countries within Asia, Africa and Latin America.

According to TransFair Canada, there are 14 fair trade-based products on the market, including clothing, bananas, wine, flowers, cosmetics and baked goods.

I would love to see a fair-trade clothing store in Whitehorse to solve the problem of that Made in China tag clawing at the back of my neck.

And, after learning that Chiquita union leaders are being murdered by the company (it admitted in a Colombian courtroom to paying right-wing paramilitaries to ‘protect’ its workers), a fair-trade banana is a must.

Fair trade should not be confused with free trade, though it often is.

Fair trade has nothing to do with economic agreements between nations; it is between the corporation and its workers.

Organizations such as TransFair Canada give a product the distinguishing “Fair Trade Certified” stamp, which guarantees the producer has met strict standards of human ethics as well as environmental requirements.

These are set by Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International in consultation with Fair Trade Certified stakeholders, such as producer organizations and licensees, and organizations like TransFair Canada.

The International Fair Trade Association, a global network of fair trade organizations, lists 10 standards of fair trade. The association monitors the organizations to make sure it follows these rules day-to-day.

They must create opportunities for disadvantaged producers or those “marginalized by the conventional trading system;”

It must engage in transparent trading relations;

It must promote a producer’s independence by improving skills and access to new markets;

It must promote fair trade using honest marketing and aim for the highest quality product;

It must pay a fair price — one that is agreed-upon through dialogue and which is socially just and environmentally sound;

It must recognize that women’s work has traditionally been undervalued and strive to correct this;

It must provide safe and healthy working conditions that are age-appropriate;

It must respect the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as local laws and social norms with respect to children and work;

It must actively encourage better environmental practices;

It must maintain long-term trading relationships with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and which contributes to the growth of fair trade.

The commitment to fair trade is also coming from more than the individual consumer, the producer and the fair trade organization.

“In the North, thousands of towns, universities and churches have applied for Fair Trade status, committing to promote Fair Trade and to contribute to overcoming poverty and exclusion,” according the IFAT website, http://www.ifat.org

Europe boasts more than 300 fair trade communities, while the United States hosts half a dozen.

In Canada, Wolfville, Nova Scotia, became our first fair trade town one year ago (it also boasts the country’s only fair trade museum). LaPeche, Quebec, has been the only other Canadian community to follow suit.

TransFair Canada provides a kit for towns interested in the label. It outlines six goals for the potential fair trade town:

There must be support from the local city council;

Fair Trade Certified products must be available in shops and cafes;

Fair Trade Certified products must be used and promoted in workplaces, faith groups and schools;

There must be a demonstrated interest in the fair trade town campaign from media and public;

A steering group must be created to ensure ongoing commitment;

Other ethical and sustainable initiatives must be promoted within the community.

Whitehorse is already halfway there.

 Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.

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