Fair trade focus at International Development Week

Fair trade was the theme for this year’s International Development Week. This article on the week’s highlights was submitted by Gavin Fridell, a York doctoral student in political science who is currently writing his dissertation on the fair trade movement.

Fair trade is a movement that seeks to support small producers in less developed countries with a more just and ecologically sustainable alternative to mainstream trade networks. Participating in fair-trade agreements provides local producers, who are organized in democratically-run cooperatives, a living wage for their labour, support for grassroots development projects and the security of direct, long-term trade relationships with buyers in the North.

Support for the fair trade movement has been growing rapidly over the past decade throughout Europe and North America. As a reflection of the importance of the movement, York chose “Fair Trade: Economic Justice, Environmental Sustainability and Cultural Identity in the New Millennium” as the theme of its annual International Development Week this year, held Feb. 1-6.

While events ran all week, Thursday, Feb. 5, was the focal point of the celebration with a daylong workshop, a “fair trade fair” and meetings between local fair-trade merchants and non-governmental organizations and campus retailers. The daylong workshop – organized by a coalition of groups in collaboration with the Fair Trade @ York campaign – brought together a range of students, academics, activists and fair traders from Canada and the United States to share ideas on fair trade.

Right: Cover of Laure Waridel’s book

After Professor Darryl Reed, coordinator of York’s Business & Society Program, opened the workshop, Montreal author Laure Waridel delivered the keynote address. A co-founder of Equiterre, an organization that promotes fair trade, Waridel spoke of the benefits that fair trade brings to its partners in the South and the growth of the movement in Canada.

Waridel’s address was followed by panels of academics and representatives from various fair trade organizations, including Alternative Grounds, Ten Thousand Villages, Oxfam and Planet Bean, who spoke of the strengths and weaknesses of the fair trade movement and the need to promote it. It was generally agreed that, while fair trade is a valuable strategy for promoting development, states and international organizations still have key roles to play in the struggle to combat global poverty and inequality.

Of particular interest to the York community was a presentation by Kristina Polzot on the Las Nubes project, a program headed by Professor Howard Daugherty of the Faculty of Environmental Studies in the Las Nubes rainforest of Costa Rica. In her presentation, Polzot, a MES student, explained that part of the project involves the production and marketing of a sustainable coffee, which bears the York logo. The first harvest was made this past fall and the coffee is currently available for sale in CounterCulture in the Faculty of Environmental Studies.

The week-long event was well attended and considered a great success by organizers.