25 January, 2017

Fairtrade Canada 20th Anniversary – Looking back

by John Young, Interim Executive Director

It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since I first sent an email to Bob Thompson, the founding Executive Director, asking if I could volunteer for “Fair Trademark Canada".

Back then I don’t think Bob even had offices yet and he had only just incorporated so he didn’t have anything for me to do.  I had just been called to the bar and was looking for work, eventually finding something in Ottawa.  A year later Bob had his volunteer and he got me researching the viability of Fairtrade orange juice in Canada.  But it was only a ruse, Fairtrade Canada licensees didn’t offer orange juice until many years later; Bob merely wanted to find out whether I was any use.  Many volunteer, few deliver.

I guess I passed the test since three months later I was recruited as the third member of the Fair Trademark Canada board, joining Alison Cullingham and Dennis Howlett.   We had four coffee licensees back then and were experiencing rapid growth from our modest start.  A year later there was great excitement as we got ready to hire our second employee, Heather Weinrich.

From there we kept on growing.  We hired Caroline Whitby as Bob eased into retirement and I became the third full time staff person in 2001 when I set up the original certification and auditing program.   In those days the office was buzzing, with good problems, like trying to keep up with all the applications to become Fairtrade Certified!  Rapid growth continued until the downturn of 2008 when things calmed down considerably.   It was also in 2008 that I returned from my stint at FLOCERT in Bonn to work at Fairtrade Canada again, eventually settling in as Certification Manager. 

There were a few flat years until growth returned and by then our product range had greatly expanded to include cotton, herbs and spices, and even gold.  Looking back it has been a winding journey but ultimately one that has brought significant impact to producers, especially in my personal experience, the organic sugar farmers in Paraguay.   I look forward to the next twenty years with new innovations such as Fairtrade Carbon Credits and climate change adaptation projects with producers.  Fairtrade has always been interesting and I have no doubt the next twenty years will be exciting too.