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This article was published 29/6/2015 (2181 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg has always been a multicultural city, and one built on international trade. As the railways came to town beginning in late 1800s, moving goods across the continent, people have come from every corner of the globe to seek new opportunities along the Red, the Assiniboine and the La Salle rivers.
The new Canadian Museum for Human Rights stands like a beacon at The Forks, ostensibly promoting respect and encouraging reflection and dialogue around human rights. Events like Folklorama celebrate the diversity of cultures who have made a home in Winnipeg, a diversity that makes our city such an interesting and unique place to live.
And now, Winnipeg’s executive policy committee is studying a proposal that could see the city acting further to promote the ideals of human rights and equitable international economic development.
During the June 16 East Kildonan-Transcona Community Committee meeting, Coun. Jason Schreyer (Elmwood-East Kildonan) moved a motion calling on the city to investigate the feasibility of officially becoming a "Fair Trade City."
"It just seems like the right thing to do," Schreyer said following the June 16 committee meeting. "It’s something that’s already happening among municipalities across the country."
The idea of the "Fair Trade Town" hatched in England in 1999 as a means of communities working together to promote fair trade practices. Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto have already signed on to be Fair Trade cities, while here in Manitoba both Gimli and Brandon are Fair Trade towns.
"Given the size of Winnipeg, we’d need approximately 125 venues on board to be considered a Fair Trade city," Schreyer said. To qualify, a certain percentage of businesses operating within a community must provide at least two Fair Trade products for sale.
"The intent at this time is to concentrate on sugar, coffee and tea," Schreyer said, adding that, "basically, we’re already there."
Fair Trade Manitoba
Schreyer said Coun. John Orlikow (River Heights - Fort Garry) was already working on the initiative put forward by Fair Trade Manitoba when Schreyer became aware of it.
"We just decided it would be for me to bring forth," Schreyer said.
"We figured if Rob Ford in Toronto can do it, why not Winnipeg?" Zack Gross, outreach coordinator for Fair Trade Manitoba, told The Herald. "Hopefully the city will pass the resolution."
Gross said that there has been "a lot of buy-in" from city councillors, including but not limited to Orlikow and Schreyer.
Fair Trade Manitoba defines Fair Trade products as "a market-based system that uses informed consumer support to influence international trade practices toward greater social and environmental sustainability."
While many businesses in Winnipeg already carry Fair Trade products, Gross believes that if the initiative passes, it will encourage more businesses to stock the product.
"I think it gives incentive for more business to be a part of that," he said.
On the ground
North Kildonan hot-spot Mountain Bean Coffee (2001 Henderson Hwy.) has a number of Fair Trade coffees available.
"The Grizz is our most popular dark roast," Kyla Fletcher, a full-time barista at the popular North Kildonan coffee shop, attested. "It’s one of our Fair Trade blends."
Fletcher said many of her customers ask about their Fair Trade coffee options, all of which are also popular sellers.
"There’s almost a cachet with Fair Trade," Gross said. "People come to your coffee shop or your craft shop because they want to support this kind of thing. Young people are passionate about it. It’s kind of a win-win."
One local business that has been involved in the equitable exchange game since the get-go is Ten Thousand Villages (963 Henderson Hwy.). The oldest and largest Fair Trade organization in North America, Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit program of the Mennonite Central Committee. Their stores not only stock Fair Trade coffee, tea and chocolate, but also an ever-changing selection of artisan-crafted personal accessories, home decor and gift items from around the world.
"It’s not just about buying an item," Daria Zozulia, manager of Ten Thousand Villages on Henderson, explained. "Through the item you have a connection to the producer in a developing country. We make sure our customers know the story behind the product, because it is about the relationship."
"When you have a product," added assistant manager Esther Tchando, "you’re happy you have a product, and you can be happy you’re helping someone survive, helping someone put food on the table. How can you not support it?"
Agnes Olfert, a volunteer at Ten Thousand Villages for 17 years, said she believes she has "definitely" seen awareness of Fair Trade principles grow over the years.
"We make an effort to introduce our customers to that," she said. "We’re also raising awareness in the school system."
Ten Thousand Villages is a popular field trip destination for middle school-aged students learning about global affairs. Zozulia and Tchando both believe that education has led to a greater understanding of Fair Trade.
"We tell them about chocolate, because everyone loves chocolate," Zozulia said. "But not everybody knows how cocoa bean (production) works, who is involved. Before, even 10 years ago, people just thought of products as a product they enjoy. But now I think they think about what is behind the product. What’s the process involved?"
"This generation will be very good," agreed Tchando. "If we can continue that message, we will see a lot of changes."
Gross sees a lot of potential for Manitoba to develop into a regional, or even national, leader in Fair Trade.
"Manitoba really has a reputation now as one of the most active areas for ethical purchasing," he said, pointing to Winnipeg’s successful bid to host a national Fair Trade conference in February 2016. "There will be speakers coming in from around the world who are producers. I think it will be a chance to push the whole conversation forward."
Currently, the feasibility of the Fair Trade Winnipeg initiative is being investigated by the city’s executive policy committee.
"If it is successfully vetted, then it would hit council floor in September, or maybe even July," Schreyer said, who is confident the initiative will be supported.
"It’s the right thing to do," he said. "I think it’s incumbent upon us, being an international city, to participate in this continent-wide endeavour to promote Fair Trade."
"When you think about not just the poverty, but you think about child labour and some of the chemicals used in farming and other production, it really is the right thing to do," agreed Gross.
However, Schreyer admits there are "some limitations" on how far the City itself will be able to commit.
"With regard to procurement there are some limitations, because of the way the City contracts stuff," he explained. "The City can’t just simply decide on a rule. Nonetheless, it seems at this point that, from the City, that doesn’t mean there is a hindrance from greater participation. There will be report back from the city, and all that information will be forthcoming."
The Herald community journalist
Sheldon Birnie is the reporter/photographer for The Herald. The author of Missing Like Teeth: An Oral History of Winnipeg Underground Rock (1990-2001), his writing has appeared in journals and online platforms across Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. A husband and father of two young children, Sheldon enjoys playing guitar and rec hockey when he can find the time. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org Call him at 204-697-7112