Just How ‘Fair’ are Canadian Businesses?

Just How ‘Fair’ are Canadian Businesses?

A glimpse into how far the fair trade industry has come in Canada

This month marks seven years since Wolfville, Nova Scotia became the first Fair Trade Town in Canada. This month also celebrates the one-year anniversary of Toronto becoming a Fair Trade Town, to date the largest city in North America with the designation. In May, the Power of You, a worldwide campaign coordinated internationally by the Fairtrade Foundation, will be launched.

So what does this all really mean?

A year ago, I joined Fair Trade Toronto as the Business Development Manager. I had long been a supporter of buying Fairtrade certified coffee when I could, but I had no idea what impact this was really having on a larger scale. As a member of Engineers Without Borders Canada, I had recently returned from a six-month volunteer placement in Zambia where I helped a local social enterprise get their business running through the power of the Impact Investing model. I wanted to see how I could still have impact, now back living in Canada. I knew that fair trade meant that I was supporting fair wages in developing countries, but I also had heard criticisms that it didn’t really support the farmer as much as it could.

What I soon found out was just how far fair trade actually reaches beyond fair wages as well as how much Canada has already achieved.

Besides the premiums paid, Fairtrade certification (such as those certified by Fairtrade Canada) ensures labour standards and environmental sustainability in communities that can be otherwise heavily exploited for foreign export. The premiums received are used to support local community initiatives through the producer cooperatives, which forge stronger communities and reduce labour inefficiencies. More so, Fairtrade certification acts as a catalyst for producers’ businesses, giving them the ability to access seed money, market resources, and larger industry knowledge.

In Canada, the numbers are actually astonishing. Today there are over 200 Fairtrade companies registered, with over 5000 products available, ranging from coffees and teas all the way to avocados, flowers, sports balls, and even cosmetics. In 2012, retail sales for Fairtrade certified products amounted to more than $250 million, resulting in $3.5 million in premiums being raised for producers.

Canadian Fair Trade Network (CFTN), an NGO aimed at advancing awareness and support of fair trade in Canada, has played an incredible role in growing the movement through fostering relationships between businesses, products, towns, and campuses across Canada. By doing so, they are helping to increase both supply and demand, and ensure that the integrity of the Fairtrade standard remains consistent as the industry expands.

Today there are 17 Fair Trade Cities across Canada (with Toronto and Edmonton joining in 2013) and 7 Fair Trade Campuses (with University of Ottawa just being awarded this March), largely due to the advocacy and work of the CFTN.  The success of both of these programs show that Canadians across the country are demanding ethical procurement policies in their cities and campuses and wanting to see availability of fair trade products increase.

A particularly great story this past year comes from Simon Fraser University (SFU), where SFU did an incredible job of working with Starbucks to offer the first Fairtrade certified espresso beverages from Starbucks in Canada, as part of a pilot project, to continue the university’s commitment to fair trade.

In Toronto, after an energizing push to become the largest Fair Trade City in North America, Fair Trade Toronto (FTT) continues to accelerate forward. The team is working with colleges and universities around the GTA to help them gain Fair Trade Campus designation and gain a larger awareness in Toronto. As part of FTT’s one-year anniversary celebration on May 10th, we will officially launch our new venture, ‘The Sugar Project’, aimed at expanding the availability of Fairtrade certified sugar at coffee shops, bistros, and restaurants across Toronto, leveraging the incredible power that each of us have in even the smallest choice of what sugar we’re using in our coffee.

Demand in the retail sector is also becoming more prevalent. Shannon Brown, Business Development Manager at Fairtrade Canada, while on a panel at a recent food service conference in Montreal, said that, “we know that the consumer segments who seek out Fairtrade certified products are growing year upon year. What’s relatively new is the strong push from retailers for the Fairtrade certification of their suppliers.  This comes from the need to sell to consumers who know what they want, the need to manage risks in supply chains, and a genuine desire to make a positive impact on the lives of farmers and workers in economically disadvantaged countries.  That’s why they want the full chain of custody certification to international standards that Fairtrade Canada provides.”

Globally, the UK’s Fairtrade Foundation continues to set the stage. In 2012 the UK had Fairtrade sales reach £1.53 billion (approximately $2.8 billion CAD), over 550 Fairtrade Towns registered, and more than 1000 schools and universities designated.

As the movement in Canada continues to gain traction with consumers and business, we can look towards the success of The Fairtrade Foundation as a benchmark to how big our Canadian fair trade movement can really grow in the coming years.


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