Saturday, December 5, 2009

Trade is almost Fair in Barrie

(Written for Root Issues in the Barrie Examiner)

"Life isn't fair," we hear. Yet from childhood on, we demand fair treatment. Luckily there are things we can do to spread fairness; one is Fair Trade.

A fair trade means each side receives benefit from their exchange. Neither takes advantage of the other, neither loses out, gain is shared equitably. Sadly, in today's globalized "free trade" world, this is too often not the case.

Poor farmers in developing nations are particularly vulnerable. Many switch from growing food to raising export crops to increase income. Then commodity prices drop and they receive lower prices, becoming even poorer than before, but have lost the land, tools, or skills for growing their own food again. Fair Trade ensures exporting helps farmers in developing countries instead of pushing them further into poverty.

At the producer (farmer) end, Fair Trade means they receive a sufficient price to support their families, afford decent health care, educate their children, and invest in their community. They can produce amounts their land can support without depleting water, forest, or soil or using excessive chemicals. (Fair Trade products are often organic or less chemical-intensive than industrially-farmed ones.)

Fair Trade labelling organizations ensure these standards are met. On larger plantations, they ensure workers get a decent, living wage and aren't mistreated, that there is no forced child labour. By reducing exploitation of foreign workers, fair trade also protects wages in our own country from unfair competition.

At the other end, as consumers, we can choose Fair Trade products. The best-known fairly-traded commodity is coffee, but there are also fair trade tea, sugar, cocoa and chocolate, wine, clothing, flowers, bananas, even soccer balls. By buying them, we help protect the earth through support of sustainable farming and avoid taking unfair advantage of the world's poor. Because Fair Trade organizations cut out middlemen, the products are priced similar to premium brands; you need not hurt your wallet for fairness.

Of course, we need retailers offering Fair Trade products. Helping this happen falls to the Barrie Fair Trade Working Group (BFTWG). Formed in 2005 by Bob Jowett and Bruce Morton, this volunteer group works hard making Barrie a Fair Trade city. To be certified we must reach several goals, and the BFTWG has nearly gotten us there. A city this size needs at least 28 stores and 14 cafes carrying two or more Fair Trade products; at last count we were at 27 and 11 -- almost there.

Certification needs the support of local organizations, and already a number of public and separate schools, churches, service clubs, Georgian College, the library, the MacLaren and RVH are on board. There must be media and public awareness; BFTWG has had newspaper and TV coverage, as well as frequently hosting or attending local public events. They work with Living Green, Georgian's GEAR, and the Simcoe County District School Board to educate on sustainable production and consumption. The YMCA even awarded the BFTWG its annual Peace Medallion last month to show support and recognize their hard work.

The last step for Barrie to be certified a Fair Trade city is the stamp of the city's government. Council passed a motion supporting a Fair Trade and green purchase policy, and, last month, established a task group to look into passing the final hurdle.

We're almost there. Make sure you mention your support for fair trade to your local councillor, and keep buying Fair Trade products. Very soon, thanks to the efforts of Bob and Bruce and their fellow volunteers, you can be proud to live in one of Canada's first Fair Trade cities.

For more information, visit

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

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