OTTAWA, January 9, 2012 – Where exactly does that cup of coffee come from? That’s the question a group of volunteers from Ottawa hope you’ll ask the next time you make a purchase.
The Fair Trade Ottawa team is working to have Ottawa named a Fair Trade Town — a designation given to a city where fair trade products are accessible and the people living there know what they are.
“Fair trade is about looking closer at where your food comes from and where your things are made, and understanding the consequences that your purchasing has on people in developing countries,” says Michael Creighton, chair of Fair Trade Ottawa.
Since last spring, the group has been holding awareness campaigns around the city and compiling a thick report to show Fairtrade Canada that Ottawa is ready for the title.
Fair trade products come in a variety of forms — everything from coffees and teas to soccer balls and hockey pucks.
An international network of fair trade organizations puts farmers and producers through a rigorous process to ensure that every worker involved in the production of an item is treated and paid fairly. The goal is to help abolish child labour and worker abuse, and to encourage sustainable production methods.
Michael Zelmer, the communications director for Fairtrade Canada, says the main goal of the certification process is to ensure people have enough information to make decisions about what to buy.
“The purpose of fair trade is to provide a mechanism so that consumers can say, OK, we don’t agree with this. We want to make it so that people don’t have to put their kids to work, and then the kids can go to school.”
Products that meet the stringent criteria are given the Fairtrade certification, a little label on the box or package that tells consumers the product has met international demands.
To become a Fair Trade Town, Ottawa will have to meet several criteria. Fair trade products need to be accessible across the city, and the group has to have made several attempts at informing the public about the process. Support is also needed from the city council — both as a commitment to use fair trade products at city hall and by forming a committee to keep the standards high.
Jennie Videto, one of the founders of Fair Trade Ottawa, says the support has been strong in the city, but she still hopes to gain more as they move closer to earning the designation.
“We should be showing our leadership, and other cities and towns can follow,” she says. There are currently 15 Fair Trade Towns in Canada.
If Ottawa is successful it would join nearly 1,000 around the world, many of which are clustered in Britain where the concept began.
Videto says being a Fair Trade Town just means people can decide to spend their money with more information.
“For me, it’s just an opportunity for people to have a chance to have good health care, education, food on the table every night. Stuff that we might take for granted, just paying a couple of extra cents here and there or a dollar affords them those opportunities.”
At the University of Ottawa, stickers bearing the fair trade certification are scattered across the wall in the main shop, encircling a large display of fair trade coffees, teas, and chocolates.
The university is also in the process of applying for the title of a Fair Trade Campus. It’s a tough designation to earn, since it requires all the coffee purchased by the university and student union to be fair trade, as well as several tea options.
Ryan Ward, the head of the University of Ottawa’s fair trade group, says the university is well on its way to earning the title. The student union-run businesses have already switched to fair trade products, and the university has backed the project.
The first goal saw the university earning the title this month, but there have been delays while the administration works with suppliers to track down fair trade products. Ward says the submission will likely be made by the end of the academic year.
For more information go to www.fairtradeottawa.ca
— CAROLYN THOMPSON, THE OTTAWA CITIZEN