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Volume 10 Issue 4
November/December 2004

Ganoderma: God's Herb
Reishi Mushroom Medicine

Raving About Raw Seeds!

Fair Trade
A Marketplace Where Everyone Wins

Humour and Hope
A Process for Healing ©2004

Healthy Vision Habits
Give Your Eyes A Break


Fair Trade
A Marketplace Where Everyone Wins

by Nancy Allan
Nancy Allan

What is Fair Trade?

With the holiday season approaching, WHOLifE Journal readers may be thinking about appropriate gifts for the people on their lists. If you are feeling short on ideas, may I suggest a range of products that won’t ruin your budget, don’t require dusting, and support the folks who made them? Fair trade gifts give twice, to quote an old saying: once to the recipient and once to the people who made them. While most WHOLifE readers don’t need to be persuaded about the virtue of organics, perhaps not everyone is familiar with the ideas behind fair trade and how both consumers and producers can benefit.

Fair trade-certified products, from sugar to crafts to soccer balls, are created under conditions that acknowledge producers’ and workers’ rights to fair payment for their labour, offer partial advance payment to cover producers’ up-front costs, and involve multi-year contracts to allow for better planning. In the case of coffee, fair trade guarantees producers a basic price of US$1.26 (Cdn$1.60) a pound, more than double the world price as of September, 2004. It is obvious why small farmers, who are the majority of the world’s coffee producers, would like to be involved in the fair trade marketplace.

A lot of fair trade products are no more
expensive than their gourmet and organic rivals,
and most fair trade shoppers think they are
worth the small extra investment.

Like the products themselves, fair production conditions differ and sector-specific criteria can vary. Fair trade tea is produced on large estates rather than small farms, and tea workers are guaranteed enough hours of work, as well as fair wages, as well as benefits such as decent housing, basic health care, and pension plans. It is easy to imagine how important a pension plan is for workers who lose their right to housing once they retire, and many tea estate employees use their modest pensions to buy homes when they leave the workforce and the estate.

Cocoa production illustrates perhaps the most drastic difference between fair and unfair working conditions. Much non-fair cocoa production involves child slave labour, a situation that makes most chocolate bars and cocoa taste considerably less sweet. Because the world price of cocoa doesn’t cover the cost of production, there is little money to be made and many unscrupulous cocoa farmers see no alternative but to employ children who are often tricked into entering a workforce with deplorable conditions and little hope for escape. Fair trade, on the other hand, guarantees producers a price that covers production costs, with enough money for family expenses, farm upkeep, and time to participate in local organizations.

Given fair trade’s benefits for producers, why aren’t fair trade products more readily available? The trouble is, there are only enough fair trade consumers to support the million producers in 45 countries who supply the market. That is where we, as consumers, come in. Every pound of coffee, box of tea, or chocolate bar we buy involves a choice: we can insist on fair trade-certified goods (those with a recognized fair trade mark) when we shop. Today there are many fair trade suppliers throughout Canada, and if your favourite grocery store, specialty shop, café, co-op, church, or office doesn’t have it, it is because they haven’t looked hard enough. If there is no fair trade source in your community, the TransFair website (www.transfair.ca) lists mail order suppliers in every province and territory.


Maybe you are reluctant to give up your favourite, non-fair trade brand for something unknown. If you are worried about quality, you do not need to be. Fair trade has a reputation for quality and this year fair trade-certified coffee producers supplied the top six winning coffees at the prestigious Cup of Excellence. Good coffee requires careful handling and producers who receive a fair price can afford to take the time that is needed to produce a top-quality product and use sustainable practices that benefit all life forms.

And as a consumer, I am happy to know that I am
not taking unfair advantage of the people
who make the products I buy.

Maybe you don’t want to give up on organics? You don’t need to. Much of the fair trade coffee, tea, and cocoa is certified organic and many producers are either non-certified or in transition to certification. Maybe you think fair trade is too expensive? A lot of fair trade products are no more expensive than their gourmet and organic rivals, and most fair trade shoppers think they are worth the small extra investment. Or maybe you think fair trade is too good to be true? I think most producers would tell you that the combination of a better price and closer relationships with consumers makes their hard work worth it. And as a consumer, I am happy to know that I am not taking unfair advantage of the people who make the products I buy.

If you are interested, I urge you to do your own research, perhaps starting with TransFair Canada, the Canadian certifying agency (www.transfair.ca); or Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International (FLO) (www.fairtrade.net), the international fair trade umbrella body. Unfortunately there are some imposters out there, so be sure to ask for “fair trade certified” and look for the logo.

And finally, if you are still working on a holiday gift list—your own or someone else’s—why don’t you include a few fair trade products? (And if you are buying for Melva, the WHOLifE editor, she loves fair trade chocolate!)

Nancy Allan is a Saskatoon-based student and fair trade activist who owns Just Delights, a home-based fair trade business. You can contact Nancy by phone (306) 664-6071 or email: justdelights@web.ca.


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