Special Series: Fast Forward
By Zack Gross
In “my day,” people were voters and donors. Large percentages of the public voted in municipal, provincial and federal elections, donated their hard-earned dollars to causes they supported or bought memberships in groups they could relate to.
Today, it’s hard to get fifty percent of the population out to vote, and while donations continue to come in when disaster strikes locally or globally, the upward curve has leveled, especially among the younger generation. It has to be said that Manitobans continuously compete with Newfoundlanders for the title of “most generous” Canadians, but the trend in our country as a whole is that volunteerism and generosity grow scarce.
Today, people under forty are focused on consumption. The mall or big box store is where they feel most at home. Where this trend works to the advantage of a better world (and that is what generosity and citizenship are all about) is when consumerism and altruism collide, such as with fair trade. “Vote with your dollar” is the slogan for buying ethical, green and local.
The rise of the fair trade movement is a testament to this slogan. There are now twenty-one Fair Trade Towns and Cities across Canada — including Gimli and Brandon here in Manitoba — with Winnipeg seemingly soon to join that group. Three high schools, including Stonewall Collegiate here in Manitoba, have met the criteria for Canada’s new Fair Trade Schools program, and several will take that step when classes resume in the fall. There are ten Fair Trade Campuses in Canada, including at least two in our province.
It isn’t just activists who see the connection between buying the goods that they need and want and bettering the lives of farmers and workers in developing countries. Business is jumping on the bandwagon, and in many cases leading the charge. Whether you are The Fresh Carrot, a health food and fair trade shop in Gimli that will soon open a store in Winnipeg (boasting a fair trade coffee bar and flower/gift shop), or multinational Cadbury, with five different fair trade-certified chocolate bars, altruism and self-interest are driving business to fair trade.
Fair Trade Fridays, a tradition with many Brandon businesses, was partly why Manitoba’s second city won a national Fair Trade Award last year from Fairtrade Canada. Businesses with one hundred percent fair trade sales have been calling for, and are now planning the launch of a Canadian Fair Trade Chamber of Commerce. This will help those seeking to enter the fair trade market in Manitoba. A Fair Trade-certified coffee roaster would do extremely well in our province, since availability of products is a prerequisite for becoming a Fair Trade Town, School or Campus.
There is no question that Canadians, and people in the rich world, consume too much. It is said that if everyone consumed like us, we’d need four planet Earths. We use too much oil and energy in general. We buy too many things that are over-packaged or break easily and get thrown out. While tens of thousands die each day from poverty, disease and war, we spend money that could alleviate those situations on ice cream, cigarettes, cosmetics, soft drinks and pet food.
If we really are addicted to shopping, to consuming, to living it up beyond what is sustainable, can we divert people to fair trade, to green, local and other more appropriate products, and make it worthwhile to towns, businesses and institutions to participate? Judging from the progress of the fair trade movement here in Canada, the answer is Yes.
Zack Gross is Fair Trade Outreach Coordinator and Overseas Projects Officer for the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation. This piece is a slightly modified version of Zack’s June 29, 2015 “Small World” column for the Brandon Sun. Voices in this audio story were recorded in February 2016 at Building Momentum: 4th National Fair Trade Conference, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Fast Forward: Stories of Challenge & Change is produced with the generous support of the Government of Canada, the Social Justice Fund of Unifor, and the Community Radio Fund of Canada. Musical interludes in this audio story by Dan Weisenberger and Eliya. Thanks to Roger Dumas for his wonderful human brain ‘sonifications’, one of which appears in Fast Forward intros/extros. For more information about Roger’s Pieces of Mind CD, go here.