BY KANDACE GALLANT
“Increasing the use and sales of fair trade products can have a huge impact for producers and their communities,” states the Fair Trade Canada website. That’s why the University of Guelph decided to join the Fair Trade Campus movement.
“Fair trade supports artisans and farmers in developing countries,” said Stephanie Barth, manager of Ten Thousand Villages in Uptown Waterloo. “Several standards must be met to designate a product as fair trade. These include fair pay, no child enforced labour, safe and healthy working conditions, environmental stability, transparency and accountability.”
Ten Thousand Villages is the world’s oldest and largest fair trade organization and has 36 locations in Canada and 70 in the U.S. It creates opportunities for the artisans in developing countries to earn income from their products.
The University of Guelph sells some of the same things that Ten Thousand Villages does, such as coffee, tea, notepads and pottery.
Melissa Stieber, manager of More Than Half Clothing, located on King Street in Kitchener, said being a part of the Fair Trade Campus movement is not difficult and that it’s important to have a campus that is recognized as a fair trade campus. But she agreed that fair trade can be a difficult subject to understand. “It’s important to know about because the majority of what we consume is produced or grown in developing countries by those who are being exploited,” Stieber said. “The name of our store represents that, where in a Martin Luther King Jr. sermon he mentions ‘before you’ve finished eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve relied on more than half of the world.’”
“Whether we like to think about it or not, our choices affect people around the world,” said Barth. “That is why it’s so important for people to know about fair trade. We rarely pause to consider the lives of people who make the products we use or consume every day.”
Barth also said people don’t think about how others are treated in their workplace or what their lives are like. Teenagers and young adults today go into work for eight hours and get paid minimum wage and complain about it, but people who are working in sweatshops in other countries are forced to work more hours than they can handle for a pittance.
A product is fair trade if it is fair trade certified, or sweatshop free, or has a blue and green circle with fair trade written underneath it. These symbols and certifications appear on many products including coffee, tea, soaps, chocolate bars and clothing articles. Is it possible that Conestoga College can join in raising awareness of fair trade?
Barth said the Fair Trade Campus movement is gaining momentum in Canada. Since the University of Guelph joined, other universities and colleges in the area have been working toward it as well. “Raising awareness is a great way to get involved,” Barth said. “Shopping at fair trade stores and buying products with the fair trade logo is another way to support the Fair Trade Movement.”
So, next time you’re buying a cup of coffee or pouring yourself a nice cup of tea in the morning, think of where and how it was produced. When you’re getting dressed in the morning think about the fingers behind those stitches.
“If people knew the truth behind that cup of coffee or the T-shirts they wear, they would change their purchasing habits and seek out more ethical products,” said Stieber.