Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
May 10, 2010
Buying fair trade products is a moral act
Socially responsible consumers buy goods produced by fair labour under prime ecological conditions
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - In some Catholic parishes and institutions, like St. Albert Parish and Newman Theological College, all the coffee consumed is fair trade certified coffee.
That means the coffee was produced under fair labour and ecological conditions and the workers who produced it were paid decent wages.
That's the reason Val Merchant, a St. Albert parishioner, got involved in the fair trade business years ago - because fair trade contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to marginalized producers and workers in the developing world.
For the same reason, Merchant believes Christian consumers should buy fair trade certified products from local stores.
SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE CONSUMERS
Merchant was one of three who addressed a workshop on Being a Socially Responsible Consumer at the Catholic Pastoral Centre April 28.
Nearly 40 people attended the lunch-hour workshop, including representatives of a least a dozen Catholic parishes.
Drawing from Pope Benedict's recent encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Bob McKeon, of the Office for Social Justice, said purchasing is a moral act. The consumer, especially the Christian consumer, has the responsibility to purchase ethically every time they go to the grocery store.
Even though fair trade is not explicitly mentioned in the pope's encyclical, "fair trade embodies the principles of Catholic social justice," McKeon said in an interview.
Merchant has been promoting fair trade and supplying Edmonton area parishes with fair trade certified products for several years.
FAIR TRADE ADVOCATE
The justice activist speaks on the virtues of fair trade everywhere he can. And apart from getting "thank you" cards from students, sometimes he gets tangible results. Once, a Grade 2 student in St. Albert got so enthused, she convinced her dad to include fair trade certified coffee and other products in the chain of stores he runs.
In the beginning, Merchant got coffee, tea and hot chocolate from the Edmonton office of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and sold it in his and other parishes on weekends.
Eventually, and with the okay of CCODP, Merchant started ordering the products directly and expanded to fair trade certified sugar, chocolate bars, dried fruits and other items. He would sell the products to other parishes at cost. He brought and sold many of those products at the workshop.
But due to the growing popularity of fair trade certified products in the Edmonton area, Merchant may soon be forced out of business.
Which is okay with him because he's out to promote fair trade, not to profit from it. Any profits he's made have always gone to charity. If he paid $9 for a pound of coffee, he would sell it to the consumer for $11.
"The reason for that is that we don't want to undercut and compete with the stores," he said at the workshop. Taking business away from them is not the goal. "The goal is to turn it over to them."
Perhaps Merchant's time to turn over his business has come.
According to University of Alberta student Valantina Amalraj, who is trying to make Edmonton a fair trade city, dozens of stores and restaurants in Edmonton have already gone the fair trade route - at least with some products. The list includes Ten Thousand Villages, Superstore, Safeway, Save on Foods and Wal-Mart.
There is more. At the University of Alberta, the Students' Union recently banned non-fair trade coffee in its building and set up a committee to monitor the consumption of fair trade certified products.
According to Amalraj, Cadbury has announced that, beginning this summer, all pure-chocolate Dairy Milk bars sold in Canada will be fair trade certified. Nestle, for its part, announced in late 2009 that it was making its Kit-Kat bars fair trade certified in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
TransFair Canada, an independent non-profit organization, is the only certifying body for fair trade products in Canada.
Fair trade certification ensures coffee farmers are paid a decent, living wage for their harvest; encourages democratically organized farming cooperatives; provides access to affordable credit which help farmers stay out of debt; and promotes sustainable practices, such as organic farming.
But for all the popularity of fair trade, a lot more needs to be done to change the consciousness of Edmontonians, said Amalraj.
The 22-year-old law student is part of the Make Poverty History group, which leads the fair trade movement at the University of Alberta and the wider community.
To make Edmonton a fair trade city, Amalraj needs active support from city council, the faith community, the wider community, the schools, as well as stores and restaurants.
She has met with city council and has close to 88 stores on board, which is the number required, and several restaurants.
Churches have been generally welcoming and Amalraj said every parish should consider getting on board.
"We are really trying to get churches to make a commitment to fair trade certified by using explicitly fair trade certified coffee and tea for church meetings and make a commitment to buying those products," she said.
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