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Ethical consumers changing lives

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 Fairtrade connects ethical consumers to producers who are committed to sustainable agriculture and to meeting high social and economic standards. supplied

Fairtrade connects ethical consumers to producers who are committed to sustainable agriculture and to meeting high social and economic standards. supplied

Agrowing number of Canadians are looking beyond the price point when they buy food. They look for transparency in supply chains and care about the social and environmental implications of their purchase.

Sonia Noreau, public relations specialist of Fairtrade Canada, says this trend is driven by the buying habits of millennials, a generation whose outlook has been shaped by global connectedness. With a greater awareness about the practices of food production – both wholesome and less so – comes the desire to make purchasing decisions that have a positive impact.

Just because we can buy things cheaper, it doesn’t mean we should.
— Elana Rosenfeld is co-founder and CEO of Kicking Horse Coffee

But how to select products that have been grown and manufactured in an ethical manner? The Fairtrade designation can help, suggests Noreau. “Fair trade connects ethical consumers to producers – it also provides an answer to a lot of today’s pressing concerns.”

Farmers and workers who produce fair-trade products are committed to sustainable agriculture and meet high social and economic standards. “For chocolate, for example, the price varies a lot. The certainty of receiving a fixed minimum protects fair-trade producers from market fluctuations and allows them to plan for the future,” she explains. “Added to the Fairtrade minimum price is a premium, which goes into a communal fund that worker and farmer co-operatives use as they see fit.”

Julie Sage, Fairtrade certification and marketing director at wholesaler Discovery Organics, explains how it works for bananas. “For each box of bananas, we [at Discovery Organics] pay $1 for the social premium, which goes to a different bank account,” she says. “It’s up to co-op members to decide how they want to use the premium. The decision is made democratically and every co-op member has the right to vote for a project she or he wants to support.”

Last year, Canadian consumers generated $3-million in Fairtrade premiums, but how was it spent? Recent statistics show that small producer organizations are using nearly a third of their Fairtrade premium to support productivity or quality improvements. And on plantations, workers spend approximately a quarter of their Fairtrade premium on education, says Sage.

Members of the avocado and grapefruit co-op PRAGOR, for example, decided to spend their premium on beehives and established a partnership with women beekeepers, she says. Blooming three times a year, the avocado trees keep the pollinators busy. And since the orchard is Fairtrade certified, the designation applies to the honey as well. Sage adds that this is not only a win-win for avocado growers and beekeepers, it also helps maintain healthy populations of pollinators.

Noreau believes that being involved in a democratic voting and decision-making process empowers co-op members to take charge. There are about 7,000 certified products on the Canadian market, says Noreau, who adds that all Fairtrade producers undergo a rigorous certification process “that ensures everything is done according to fair trade standards, which have to be met and maintained, and that are regularly audited.”

The impact of Fairtrade practices is felt along the whole supply chain, says Elana Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of Kicking Horse Coffee, a company that looks back on 20 years of experience with fair trade. “Any business is just as good as its suppliers,” she says. “We’ve been working with co-ops for over 15 years and by investing in them, we really invested in our future as much as theirs. It’s a very symbiotic relationship that ensures higher quality, efficiency and consistency for all involved.”

Rosenfeld believes consumers have a responsibility to choose where they spend their buying dollars.

“Living in Canada – a developed country – we are very fortunate, and our choices can have an impact in places around the world. Just because we can buy things cheaper, it doesn’t mean we should.”

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