How Manitoba Became a Leader in Fair Trade
What Manitoba seems to be making the news for these days is flooding – Lake Manitoba, the Assiniboine River, to a much lesser extent this year the Red River and Lake Winnipeg. However, the other flood taking place in Manitoba is a wave of fair trade products flowing into Winnipeg, Brandon and rural communities and flowing out in institutional procurement orders, consumer shopping carts and in church, school and office coffee breaks!
About five years ago, when the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC) first undertook its “Fair Trade Manitoba” program, our province had been left behind by more populous, some might say more “happening”, provinces such as Quebec, British Columbia and Ontario. Not so today! As examples, we have had five successful annual Fair Trade One Month Challenges wherein thousands of Manitobans have switched, for thirty days (or forever) to fair trade coffee, tea and chocolate, and have also participated around the province in the national Reverse Trick or Treating and Fair Trade Weeks/Fortnight campaigns.
One area that Fair Trade Manitoba has put particular emphasis on is promoting the institutional purchasing of fair trade products. We have found our provincial government to be a strong ally in this regard. Early in our campaign, we met with the Minister Responsible for, and the management team of, the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission (MLCC). The MLCC had shown some interest previously and with the Minister expressing strong support for immediate action, the province has since become the political jurisdiction in which the most Fair Trade Certified wines (twenty-six varieties and counting) are sold, coming from Chile, Argentina and South Africa.
The provincial government has also been developing a website, now active, through which regional health authorities, school divisions, post-secondary institutions, municipalities and other institutional purchasers can learn about and order green, sustainable, ethical and fair trade products. A version of this website will soon be available to the general public. As well, through appropriate departments, the government has promoted the use of fair trade products in its many, many offices. The Assiniboine Credit Union, Manitoba’s largest, which has supported MCIC/FTM with small grants every year, has also switched its corporate offices and some of its branches to fair trade coffee and recruits its members and staff to participate in the One Month Challenge every year.
FTM/MCIC also delivers numerous presentations to school groups of all ages on fair trade. Consequently, we have been working with School Divisions and schools to have them adopt fair trade purchasing policies. The Evergreen School Division, in Manitoba’s Interlake Region (home of Manitoba’s one Fair Trade Town, Gimli), has adopted a fair trade purchasing policy. Along with having fair trade coffee and tea in their staff rooms, we are seeing schools and divisions purchasing ethically made/traded apparel and fair trade certified sports balls.
Currently, we are launching an initiative to create Fair Trade Zones in Winnipeg, focusing on three business areas and community neighbourhoods that have progressive, independent small businesses, faith groups with a track record of interest, and community associations that deal with social and environmental issues. So, it may be too wet here and it certainly is, every winter, too cold here – but if you are a fair trade enthusiast, Manitoba is the place to be!