Two years ago I started swapping out conventionally traded products for Fairtrade products as much as possible in an effort to help farmers working in developing countries to lift themselves out of poverty. In the UK, the easiest products to start with were bananas, chocolate, tea, and coffee. For two years I could walk into any of the major UK grocers and pick up Fairtrade bananas off the shelf without much thought. The same was true of tea and coffee. In fact, it was difficult not to buy Fairtrade tea as most packages carried the Fairtrade logo and were often less expensive than non-Fairtrade options. Opting for Fairtrade chocolate required slightly more sacrifice as it often meant repeatedly purchasing Cadbury’s Dairymilk for lack of other options.
Last week my husband and I returned to Canada permanently and settled in our temporary home in Calgary just a couple days ago. On our first trip to the grocery store I was shocked to discover that I could not find a Fairtrade banana anywhere. There are organic bananas, but organic does not guarantee that farmers are paid a fair wage for their work nor does it guarantee that they work in favourable conditions. The Fairtrade Vancouver website notes that Fairtrade certified products not only guarantee fair wages for farmers and workers, but they must also be environmentally sustainable.
Fairtrade Standards include requirements for environmentally sound agricultural practices. The focus areas are: minimized and safe use of agrochemicals, proper and safe management of waste, maintenance of soil fertility and water resources and no use of genetically modified organisms. Fairtrade Standards do not require organic certification as part of its standards. However, organic production is promoted and is rewarded by higher Fairtrade Minimum Prices for organically grown products. (Fairtrade Vancouver)
Of course I am concerned for the environment as well as the quality of the foods I eat, but I also want to know that the person who grew or harvested my food was paid fairly. After two years of buying Fairtrade bananas with ease I will now have to hunt for the same product in my new North American home.
I was equally shocked when I stood in front of the shelves of teas and was unable to find even one Fairtrade logo. Thankfully, there were a few Rainforest Alliance logos on some of the more common teas. Sadly, a Fairtrade option of my favourite tea, English breakfast, was no where to be found.
If I’m perfectly honest, this freaks me out a little. When I wrote about switching to Fairtrade two years ago, I had no idea that making the swap was significantly more difficult for my friends in Canada. I feel as though I’m going back to the beginning of my Fairtrade journey. However, in doing so, I hope that I can work with Fairtrade Canada and similar organisations to see more Fairtrade products making their way into our shops.