Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

For students, playing ball is serious business

Grant Park kids push fair-trade purchases

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As you're bouncing that basketball in the gym, or kicking that soccer ball on the field, did it ever occur to you it might have been made by child workers?

That never occurred to Jack Osiowy or Eva Rodrigues, until the two Grade 8 students at Grant Park High School got their eyes opened and their social awareness awakened.

They were among students attending the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation conference a few months back.

They already knew about fair trade in coffee, tea, chocolate, even jewelry -- goods whose production and distribution include a fair wage paid to adults in good working conditions.

"What we didn't know as much about was what they presented about sports equipment," said Rodrigues.

"We didn't know about it until we went to the conference," Osiowy said.

What they learned was a lot of sports equipment used in schools is made overseas by child labourers.

That didn't sit well with the Grant Park group of students, whose local project for the 2012 We Day in Winnipeg inspired them to get on the athletic department's case to ensure it buys fair-trade equipment.

They've kept it up, contacting Manitoba schools that MCIC advised already use fair-trade sports equipment.

The students are hearing fair-trade equipment is generally comparable in quality and maybe even lower in price.

That seems counterintuitive, since fair trade requires a living wage for adult workers.

"With fair trade, it's more direct, less steps," and no corporate salaries to be paid, said Rodrigues. No massive advertising or marketing campaigns either.

They've convinced Grant Park's athletic director to try fair-trade equipment and evaluate it during the next few months.

"There are probably phys-ed teachers who don't have a clue," said teacher Buffie Macklin, who supervises We Day students, along with teacher Chris MacDonald.

"When you buy fair trade, you're not paying for a brand name," MacDonald said.

We Day, which will hold its third annual event at the MTS Centre Oct. 30, is a Free the Children project to get students involved in local and global social justice projects.

Osiowy and Rodrigues said Henry G. Izaat Middle School in Whyte Ridge is probably Manitoba's oldest advocate of using fair-trade sports equipment.

HGI teacher Blue Jay Bridge said his school used its sustainability funds to buy about $1,000 worth of fair-trade sports equipment.

"Each classroom was allowed to buy an item," Bridge said. "We ordered through MCIC."

Bridge said the prices were reasonable, but quality varied.

"The soccer balls were terrific -- they are still in great shape. The basketballs, too."

However, the volleyballs had a slippery surface, he said. "They need to be improved. The footballs were not good."

Bridge said the people making fair-trade footballs overseas were undoubtedly very familiar with soccer and basketball, but footballs would have been something they'd likely never seen before.

His school has also bought organic cotton T-shirts for gym class, having been unable to find any fair-trade cotton that could be certified as legitimately fair trade -- some companies will tell you what you want to hear, he pointed out.

HGI buys a mix of fair trade and other goods, Bridge said. Fair-trade sports equipment is pretty much just balls, but he's confident the gym mats he bought are acceptable, because they're union-made in Montreal.

"There are things we need that these guys don't have. It would be difficult to buy all fair trade," Bridge said.

Beautiful Plains School Division superintendent Jason Young said from Neepawa that Brookdale School students are switching to fair-trade equipment after learning about child labour.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 19, 2013 B2

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