Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Trade Justice

It is difficult for us as individuals to have an effect on our governement's foreign aid budget and how it spends it. It is also difficult for us to make a difference on how much and for which countries our government will forgive debts. But we can impact trade justice in our individual purchases.

As I understand it, trade in coffee and cocoa are the most unjust. Imagine that you are hired at a specified salary tied to your productivity. Soon, you're working diligently, earning a predictable amount, and making some progress towards your own personal goals when your employer comes up to you one morning and says, "Sorry bud. Futures traders in Hong Kong got skittish at the rain we've been having for the last two days, and we'll have to cut your salary in half as of today." Then he walks away, leaving you with jaw dropped and the knowledge that tonight's meal will be the last good one in awhile and your kids certainly won't be going to school this year. Instead, you'll have to bring them on board secretly to up your production so that you can make up the shortfall. This is the reality of cocoa and coffee farmers around the world.

Fairtrade changed all that for small farmers. When we purchase coffee, cocoa, flowers, and other commodities with the Fairtrade logo, we're creating trade justice. These farmers are paid a set, predictable rate. Buyers purchase produce directly from the farmers at a fair rate that allows them to not only cover the cost of producing the food, but also to pay for their kids' education, clean water and sanitation, housing, a healthier and cleaner environment. Transfair Canada runs the standards in Canada.

You can purchase Fairtrade products at the usual suspects -- health food stores, natural food stores -- and now at some regular grocery stores and even Starbucks...when they feel like putting it on the menu. If you're a Starbucks fan, ask for Fairtrade coffee. If they say they don't have it, tell them you'll buy their organic tea instead or, if tea ain't your thing, that you'll be back when they do. Licks in Toronto now sells organic Fairtrade coffee much to my delight. The only problem is that I've gotten used to the wonderful mellow taste of organic sugar, so the taste of chemically produced white sugar in my coffee is truly repellant. I'm looking for sachets of organic sugar I can take to the coffee shops so I don't gag on the coffee any more.

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