Fair trade products on campus

August 11, 2011


On November 29 and 30 fair trade products made by artisans from around the world will be sold in MacHall.

“Due to the success we had last year, we will be coming back for two days instead of just one,” said Ten Thousand Villages co-manager Jason Fehr.

Ten Thousand Villages works with poor and disadvantaged artisans who would otherwise be unemployed or underemployed. The store, with 49 locations across Canada, places consistent orders to create a reliable source of income for these producers.

“We will not ditch an artisan, but we work with them long-term, so the products continue to get better,” said Fehr.

The organization works with the artisans so they can create pieces that will sell in North America, but reflect their local culture. A selling price is mutually agreed on.

“It is a positive event trying to raise awareness,” said Students’ Union president Dylan Jones. “We felt that allowing a fair trade market was an opportunity for students to engage in conscious purchasing.”

The SU sponsored this event after an application was submitted by the Multi-Faith Chaplains’ Centre, which will receive 10 per cent of the sales. The centre partnered with Ten Thousand Villages to put on the event. Both groups aim to expose undergraduate students to social justice issues and the benefits of informed consumer decisions.

This is the second year the event will run.

According to Oxfam — an international aid and development organization ­– trade rules often favour rich nations.

“Rich countries and powerful corporations have captured a disproportionate share of the benefits of trade, leaving developing countries and poor people worse off,” said its website.

According to Oxfam, countries need to change the way they trade.

“We do fair trade because artisans are in such desperate situations, they take whatever they can,” said Fehr. “We pay them a fair wage so they can take their children to school.”

He also said it is not just about the money. “In many cases, these traditions would be lost if they weren’t supported; [paying fair wages] helps build people up. We try to give them a respectable life with dignity.”

Poor economies cannot use import tariffs and their industries cannot compete with cheap imports.

Development Studies program coordinator Edna Einsiedel said that the positives of fair trade outweigh the negatives.

“If you took away the fair trade component, you’re reliant on what’s in the market, and some consumers want to buy based on other values, not just attributes of the product itself, for example, how animals are treated, and the non-use of child labour. These are all decisions that have little to do with the actual product itself.”

Often fair trade product prices can be much higher. Ten Thousand Villages tries to avoid this by lowering costs.

“From an economic point of view, Ten Thousand Villages tries to maximize producer surplus. We also employ a lot of volunteers to cut down costs,” said Fehr.

Jones believes it is up to students to stand up for what they think is right.

“When I started school here five years ago, there was very little fair trade, composting and recycling. Because of people consistently raising the issue, something was done about it. For example, the Styrofoam issue. Next year MacHall will be free of Styrofoam. We need to continue pushing for a better system. Talk to the people that can make the change. That’s how change gets done.”

Ten Thousand Villages is a non-profit organization run by the Mennonite Central Committee. It was started by American Edna Ruth Byler in 1946.

According to the Ten Thousand Villages website, Byler initially brought embroidery home to sell to friends after visitng volunteers in Puerto Rico who were teaching sewing classes to women in poverty. Her endevour became so popular she began to sell Haitian woodenware and cross-stich needle work from Palestinian refugees as well.

Ten Thousand Villages is one of the founding members of the World Fair Trade Organization. October 1 will be the organization’s 65th anniversary.

The organization also does a number of off-site sales in order to promote itselves to the community, and would like to continue coming to the university campus in the future.

Ten Thousand Villages goods come from 35 countries in the developing world. The company works with more than 60,000 individuals, 70 per cent of whom are women.

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