From January 14 to 16, I, along with some Ten Thousand Villages colleagues, attended the Canadian Fair Trade Network 2015 conference. This year’s theme was ‘Engage,’ and the aforementioned banana costume was just one of many highlights from this annual event.
As a member of the Canadian Fair Trade Network, it was great for us to go as representatives of Ten Thousand Villages, and connect with the many other voices of fair trade across our nation. This was my first time attending this conference, and I was happy to step outside of my day-to-day work and be inspired about the many reasons why we do this in the first place.
Over the three-day conference, we heard from many passionate and inspiring speakers who are participating in some exciting work. Everyone was eager to learn new ways to bring fair trade to more people, and contribute to the knowledge and understanding of fair trade across Canada.
I was excited to hear two new announcements during the conference. Harriet Lamb, CEO of Fairtrade International in the UK, shared some details about the new ‘I do’ campaign that was launched to encourage couples in the UK to choose fair trade gold rings for their engagements and weddings.
Fair trade gold has been picking up steam in recent years, and Lamb, who visited a gold mine in 2014, shared her belief that ‘this is the most important fair trade battle going on right now.’ Looking at pictures and hearing stories about the conditions in a typical gold mine, you can immediately understand why it is so important for fair trade gold to become the only option. The conditions in gold mines are incredibly dangerous, and traditional gold-processing practices (non-Fairtrade Certified gold) leads to villages being exposed to toxic fumes and chemicals. The introduction of Fairtrade Certification for gold will not only benefit the miners, but also entire villages of people whose livelihoods and well-being are connected to this industry. I am excited to see fair trade gold become a priority in the jewellery industry.
Another campaign, called Fair Trade Schools, was launched on the first day of the conference. We have seen Fair Trade Towns and Fair Trade Campuses popping up across Canada and around the world, and now it’s time for elementary, middle and high schools to get involved. This exciting program allows schools to get the designation once they meet certain requirements, similar to the initiatives for towns and campuses.
We heard about student groups who have already been finding ways to bring fair trade into their schools through programs like ‘Magasin du Monde’ or ‘World Store.’ The students operate a snack cart that sells Fairtrade Certified chocolate and other snacks to their classmates and teachers during lunch or school events.
Seeing the room full of students was incredibly inspirational. These young people are finding new and creative ways to bring fair trade and other social justice topics to the forefront in their schools, and it energizes me to see how fair trade awareness continues to grow across our country.
Fairtrade Canada shared that only 38% of Canadian consumers recognize fair trade. Across many other countries, including the UK and the US, the average rate is 56%. With initiatives like Fair Trade Schools (and Campuses and Towns), I hope we see this consumer awareness grow to reach – and then surpass – the international average.
Seeing the excitement and engagement of people at the CFTN Conference assures me that the fair trade movement will continue to grow in Canada in years to come.
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