Advocates Go National With New Fair Trade Network
Bryce Tarling—Friday, July 27, 2012
The Fair Trade movement has in its fold people from all parts of the country who are passionate about increasing the awareness and support for Fair Trade. The nation-wide efforts are representative of the grassroots nature of the Fair Trade movement itself.
As it is now, however, with so much hands-on work being done by people largely working as volunteers in their spare time, many of these fragmented efforts are pursued in isolation.
Enter the Canadian Fair Trade Network (CFTN) — a national network that is working towards building an infrastructure for Fair Trade advocacy in Canada.
|The birth of a network - participants from across the country at the preliminary meeting in Ottawa.|
The initiative began during the fall last year, and initial members first met at a preliminary meeting in Ottawa last January. On July 16 the network took its first steps to becoming an organization with its first official board meeting, comprising of members from provinces across the country.
According to Sean McHugh, “we all have a way of becoming siloed in our own work and day-to-day struggles.” The consequences of this isolation often result in several inefficiencies: duplication of resources, overlap of work, and mixed messaging.
The CFTN is in a unique position to progress the Fair Trade movement in Canada by working with companies, consumers, and other third party advocates, while also maintaining a neutral position for communication and collaborative work.
What this means, says McHugh, is that the organization will be working with civil society, businesses, governments, non-profit organizations, and certifiers to build a structure of resources and dialogue: “[The CFTN] has the ability to streamline processes and share tools and resources in a movement where resources are often limited.”
Michael Zelmer, Director of Communications at Fairtrade Canada, has been working as an advocate for Fair Trade for over a decade; he recognizes the value of having an infrastructure such as the CFTN. “Those who freely dedicate their time to Fair Trade, without any commercial interest in it, often have the least influence over its direction. This is largely a problem of organization.”
Zelmer also explains that the forces often moving entire markets toward Fair Trade are community and campus-based groups, which focus on advocacy efforts such as consumer education, media and institutional engagement, and policy work. “If the CFTN can focus these initiatives in a meaningful way it will reveal a level of expertise and capacity that most people in Fair Trade don’t even realize exists.”
An issue with the movement as it is, however, is the “boom-and-bust” nature that is typical of the advocacy landscape. Zelmer says, “a dynamic group will form, or a particularly motivated individual, resulting in a peak of activity that moves Fair Trade miles in a given town or campus. This usually gives way to a period of inactivity as the initial leaders driving the activity aren’t able to continue for one reason or another and no one else is able to fill their shoes.”
Sean McHugh, who has in the past led significant initiatives with Fair Trade Vancouver, which has achieved considerable successes, believes that there are many resources that need to be shared across country and within communities. There are many nuances to building effective, high-impact advocacy. There’s no reason why the work that’s already been done can’t be adapted to other regions in Canada.
The strength of an organization like the CFTN lies in its ability to harness and focus these activities to be more potent, frequent, and far-reaching. Building on existing knowledge could be what gives other communities the boost they need to get started with ready-made campaign materials and strategies for initiatives in ethical procurement.
The list of First Board of Directors for the CFTN:
- Kaan Williams (BC) Fair Trade Vancouver | EWB - University British Columbia
- Kelly James (AB) EWB - University of Calgary
- Nancy Allan (SK) Founding member of the North Saskatchewan Network
- Zack Gross (MB) Fair Trade Manitoba
- Bruce Morton (ON) Fair Trade Barrie
- Lia Walsh (ON) Fair Trade Ottawa Equitable | EWB - University of Ottawa
- Nadia Berger (ON) Fair Trade Toronto
- Eric St Pierre (QC) President of the Quebec Fair Trade Association | Fair Trade Photographer
The CFTN plans to hold its first Annual General Meeting at the start of 2013, where it will hold elections for a Board of Directors, launch memberships, begin strategic planning, and appoint an executive director.
For more information visit www.cftn.ca