GIMLI - Zack Gross has been spilling the beans about fair trade for the last three years. Fair trade outreach coordinator for the Manitoba Council on International Cooperation (MCIC), Gross says he's seen real change, as more Manitobans begin to break through the barrier of understanding - coming to terms with a concept that would have been foreign to most just a decade ago. Now fair trade coffee, fair trade chocolate and other fair trade goods are appearing on store shelves in Gimli and elsewhere.
There's much to do, but there has been noticeable progress, says Gross, a resident of Sandy Hook.
"Fair trade is about the people either making or growing products getting a fair return for their labour," Gross said Tuesday. "It's also about this production having as little negative effect on the environment as possible."
Twinning fairness in returns to foreign producers and protecting the environment appears to be a winning approach. Gross notes that Probe Research recently conducted a poll of 1,000 randomly-selected people in Manitoba. The poll asked respondents to define 'fair trade'.
"I was shocked by the result," said Gross. "Fifty-five per cent were able to provide a good working definition. That certainly wouldn't have been the case a few years ago. It seems like the visibility and the knowledge base is pretty good."
A fair trade open house, sponsored by MCIC and New Iceland Heritage Museum, runs tomorrow (Saturday) at the Gimli museum 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Gimli Youth Community Partnership, which worked with RM of Gimli to have the municipality designated a fair trade town, will have student volunteers assisting during the event, as well.
This past July, Gimli became only the sixth community in Canada to win a fair trade designation from TransFair Canada; others (and the dates they won the designation) are Wolfville, N.S. (April 17, 2007), La Pêche, Que. (Nov. 9, 2007), Port Colborne, Ont. (April 28, 2009), Nakusp, B.C. (April 29, 2009), Golden, B.C. (June 8, 2009) and Olds, Alta. (Nov. 9, 2009).
Gross says fair trade coffee will be served free to visitors. "We're serving free fair trade coffee, so that makes a visit worthwhile right off the bat," said Gross.
There will be a handful of displays, as well as fair trade products for sale.
But does fair trade work? It's a question Gross has heard during countless presentations, particularly at middle and high schools across Manitoba.
"There are two ways to look at that," said Gross. "In terms of the proportions of fair trade products in Manitoba, it's wanting. But credit unions, government departments, companies and schools are increasingly having fair trade products as a choice. I am run off my feet just doing presentations. I'll be doing three in Gimli next Tuesday. So at those levels [building fair trade into the framework] is working."
Gross pauses for part two.
"Now is it actually benefitting people - the producers - overseas? Well, it's still a new concept. It's a bit of a bumpy road. And there are pretenders out there."
More needs to be done to highlight the fact that those most affected by unfair trade are children, as child labour is employed to produce many goods, from sports equipment to chocolate, says Gross.
"We're working at this huge problem; it takes time."
On the bright side: "Cadbury has announced that, starting next summer, in Canada, Cadbury Dairy Milk will be certified fair trade," said Gross, noting that will mean 11 per cent of Cadbury's chocolate produced in Canada will then be fair trade.
"We celebrate every victory."