Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ethics are the bottom line

Bun business puts spotlight on advantages of fair trade

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It was a decision Jon McPhail spent a fair amount of time on.

But at the end of the day, the owner of Jonnies Sticky Buns knew if he was going to continue to expand his practices of buying local, organic ingredients for his delicious baked goods, seeking out fair-trade options was the next move to make. The 31-year-old, who's been running his sticky-buns joint since December 2010, already had fair-trade coffee and tea available for his customers, but lately his attention has been on the menu.

His newest addition: fair-trade chocolate.

"It's been something that has really been at the back of my mind, even before I opened," he said Saturday afternoon, during a "carrotmob" event at his Portage Avenue bakery. "Where can I push further with fair trade? Once I started to look at it closer, I saw some opportunities to try a few things."

"It's something that because the production is so far away, it doesn't feel as immediate to our surroundings," he continued. "That was an element to this that I wasn't so quick to pick up on; you're not dealing directly with the farmer or the person who is producing the product.

"Sometimes you can get lost just by the brand. It's important to know that your purchase could have repercussions halfway around the world."

This is the basic premise of fair trade. Why just consider your purchases at the grocery store as only impacting you and your immediate family? Why not look beyond the label, and even beyond the price point, and consider how the worker who helped produce said product is being treated?

Ian Hudson, an associate professor in the economics department at the University of Manitoba, is the co-author of Fair Trade, Sustainability and Social Change, a book that examines the evolution and potential of fair trade as a global production movement.

"Every time you're buying something, you're buying the way it's produced, as well as the product itself," Hudson said. "Fair trade just makes sure that what you buy is produced in a more ethical manner: the people who make it are paid a higher wage, there's no child labour involved, the environment is treated better.

"If you're going to buy something, you're always faced with a choice. You might as well make the right one."

Like its organic brothers and sisters, fair-trade products are still battling the stigma of that inflated price point. Janice Hamilton, the executive director of the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation, indicates fair-trade products often have an extra premium attached to the price, a subsidy that goes back to the producers. That money is often fed back into business improvements (equipment) or even into the community, for things such as a health centre or a school.

Hamilton said while the cost of fair-trade products is slightly more than a similar product made by workers in less ethical conditions, the bump is negligible. This is one of the stereotypes fair-trade types are trying to change.

"If you look at coffee, people are willing to pay for really good, fair-trade premium coffee beans and won't even think twice about it anymore," she said. "The stuff in the big cans is cheaper, but it's not as good. That's the trade-off more are wiling to make."

Hamilton adds fair-trade products are readily available in supermarkets, drugstores and even gas stations, so it's not as if people have to go out of their way. All it takes is just a moment or two to read the label.

"We have done polling in the past in Manitoba and we found people are willing to pay more for a product if they know people are being paid fairly and not subjected to additional stresses in the workplace," she added.

Besides chocolate, McPhail is planning to add some fair-trade sugar options to his list of ingredients. Calling the switch to more expensive baking staples "an experiment," he says the trick is to make it work with what the customers are willing to pay. For a small business that relies on the basic principle of making only enough that you will sell, McPhail says it's worth the risk.

"That will be the challenge going forward," he said. "It's just feels right."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2013 A5

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