EDMONTON – Thanks to the support of community and faith groups, including Edmonton Catholic Schools and several parishes, Edmonton is now a Fairtrade city.
The title was officially granted at the University of Alberta Sept. 26, two months after city council voted unanimously to join the Fairtrade initiative.
This means city council will purchase only Fairtrade coffee, tea and sugar. For farmers in developing countries, this means fair wages, fair labour and environmental sustainability.
Edmonton is the 17th community and the third largest city in Canada to become a Fairtrade town.
Lawyer Valantina Amalraj, who began working on the Fairtrade initiative more than four years ago, while she was still a University of Alberta student, said Edmonton met all the requirements to earn the distinction.
Amalraj said apart from having the support of a wide variety of community organizations, churches, schools and workplaces, the city has more than 40 restaurants and cafes, and over 80 stores and grocers that sell two or more Fairtrade products.
"(Fairtrade) promotes a different way of doing business, one that makes the principles of fairness and decency mean something in the marketplace," she said.
Amalraj, 25, is a member of the Make Poverty History group, which leads the fair trade movement at the University of Alberta and in the wider community.
She said Edmonton Catholic Schools and many Catholic parishes opened their doors to the group, which organized workshops and meetings to explain the benefits to the developing world of Fairtrade.
"The Edmonton Archdiocese encouraged churches to give us space," Amalraj said. "Bob McKeon of the Social Justice Commission has been very supportive."
St. Joseph's Basilica allowed members of the Make Poverty History group to speak at every Mass one weekend. The group led a workshop at the Social Justice Institute and made their case at a meeting of Catholic school principals.
In April 2010, Amalraj spoke to the staff of the Catholic Pastoral Centre.
McKeon, archdiocesan director of social justice, is pleased with the group's achievement. "They went after the rest of us saying, 'Give us an audience, we want to speak' and they were the speakers."
McKeon said the push for fair trade began more than 20 years ago, when social justice advocates would drink Bridgehead Coffee in their meetings to encourage fair trade.
"We would find extraordinary places to buy coffee wholesale and sell it to the old social justice office and the old D&P meetings, but it wouldn't be available in the stores because it was fringe in that sense," he recalled.
At one point, Development and Peace began importing fair trade coffee and other products and selling them to parishes and individuals.
"There was a sense we couldn't do too much to change the patterns of world trade but there were specific things that we could do," McKeon said.
"But enough people have raised enough concern on this over enough time that certain tipping points have been reached in public awareness.
"Now, of course, fair trade coffee can be found at almost any of the supermarkets. It's available and affordable."
Amalraj said the Fairtrade logo is placed only on those products that meet criteria such as labour standards, pay and environmental sustainability.