The Fulcrum – Fair Trade Ottawa pursues official status for city: experts question the impact of the initiative

OTTAWA, November 23, 2011 – In the Spring of 2011, community members came together to form Fair Trade Ottawa, a group dedicated to achieving fair-trade status for the city. The status, designated by Fairtrade Canada, has been awarded to 15 cities across Canada and about 20 more, including Ottawa, are pursuing it.

“We started in early spring with a few different people from different organizations,” said Jennie Videto, a member of Fair Trade Ottawa. “I myself am from Ten Thousand Villages, a couple people were from Engineers Without Borders, and we had been thinking about starting the fair-trade town initiative by ourselves. The people from Fairtrade Canada connected us and it has been history ever since.”

The first city to become a fair-trade town was Wolfville, N.S. in April 2007. Since then, many towns and cities in Canada have taken on the initiative.

“There are over 1,000 [towns] internationally,” said Michael Zelmer, director of communications for Fairtrade Canada. “Most people, once they understand what fair trade is, support it. They recognize it as a good idea and they want to get behind it. In some cases you have municipalities that are already supporting it and this [status] is just recognizing things they have done already.”

Fair Trade Ottawa promoted fair trade through many outreach initiatives such as the Feast of Fields and the Ottawa EcoFair, which educate and allow the community to try the certified products.

“It is good to have that recognizable status … because it educates people about fair trade issues and why it is important,” said Videto.

Stephen Brown, a professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Ottawa, was excited about the initiative to move toward a fair-trade status for the city, but stressed fair trade has limitations.

“[Fair trade] is only one very small thing,” said Brown. “If everyone does it, it adds up. [There is] very symbolic value for the City of Ottawa to adopt these policies; they are definitely making a statement. But we really shouldn’t see this as a substitute for more fundamental change.”

Gavin Fridell, a professor at Trent University and author of Fair Trade Coffee, explained these limitations in an interview with the Fulcrum.

“Fair trade is a good thing that is mildly beneficial,” said Fridell. “I have seen some fair-trade coffee cooperatives that have done some pretty amazing things, and I think fair trade needs to be recognized for that in terms of providing fairly poor communities with hospitals, schools, and roads.

“What the world also requires is a massive readjustment of global wealth, a readjustment of global trading policies to benefit poorer nations, and certain kinds of regulatory mechanisms to regulate international prices and international labour standards,” he added.

According to Fridell, there are 45 million coffee farmer families in the world, and fair-trade certification reaches only three per cent of them. As a supporter of fair trade himself, he suggested there is a broader reach when government gets involved using policy and aid, which can complement fair-trade purchasing.

Videto, who is excited about the fair- trade prospects an official status will open up in Ottawa, said her team is hoping to see the city achieve the goal by the spring of 2012.

“People can sign up on our website, Fairtradeottawa.ca. They are more than welcome to join our meetings,” said Videto. “Once we have the town status, we are not just going to stop. It is ongoing education about fair trade. Overall, I think a lot of people in Ottawa are concerned about it and are willing to help out.”

— CHRISTOPHER RADOJEWSKI

 

Read the full article on the Fulcrum website here.

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