Zack Gross on the way to see some fair trade sugar cane in Peru. (photo from Zack Gross)
According to Zack Gross, there is child labor and slavery associated with the production of chocolate, sugar and coffee – as well as with other commodities, from sport balls to clothing, crafts and carpets.
Gross, who is the fair trade outreach coordinator at the Manitoba Council for International Cooperation (MCIC), was speaking at a fair trade event held on May 29 by the Women’s League of Congregation Etz Chayim and the Winnipeg chapter of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) at the synagogue.
MCIC is a coalition of about 40 international development organizations funded by both the provincial and federal governments, which helps support its member organizations’ overseas projects and educates Manitobans about global issues.
Gross grew up in Winnipeg and attended I.L. Peretz Folk School, where he was first introduced to social justice issues. He has worked in the anti-poverty field internationally for nearly 50 years. He is the current president of the Canadian Fair Trade Network, a national organization based in Vancouver, and, last fall, Fair Trade Canada honored him with a lifetime achievement award.
At the Etz Chayim event, Gross spoke about the growing fair trade market, including that it has recently become more mainstream and now has many items that are kosher-certified.
“Much of my work is making presentations to interested audiences, but I also meet with local businesses, government representatives, and any others who can help to increase fair trade purchases and procurement,” he said.
Fair Trade Manitoba is a program of MCIC. “We also have a Fair Trade Winnipeg steering committee, which is working with City Hall toward Winnipeg becoming a ‘fair trade city,’ a designation Brandon and Gimli in Manitoba have already reached,” said Gross.
“Fair Trade Manitoba began as a collaboration of people involved in local schools, unions, faith groups and NGOs who share a vision of creating a better world. Manitoba is seen as a leader in fair trade. Earlier this year, we organized a national conference that attracted over 350 people and, last month, we had 13 people, including my wife and myself, travel to Peru to visit fair trade co-ops (producers and processors).
“But also, in a less sensational way, fair trade can help poor farmers find new markets and make more money, so they can have schools and clinics in their communities, can use better environmental methods in their production, can use safer equipment and can contribute more to their local and national economies.”
Fair trade can also help create economic opportunities for women and youth who have no capital, he said.
“When people are shopping – what we call ‘voting with your dollars’ – they should look for the fair trade label when buying coffee, tea, sugar, chocolate, tropical fruits and many other products,” said Gross, who advised that consumers visit cftn.ca/products-companies for more detailed information.
He also suggested people make their schools, campuses, faith groups, workplaces and events fair trade, and referred those interested in doing so to fairtrade.ca.
Yelena Maleyev was a key member of the local NCJW in putting this event together.
“We are passionate about educating the public about global issues that affect us locally, like child slavery and human trafficking,” she said. “The Women’s League shares our passion for organizing educational events, so it was a perfect partnership.”
At a local event last year, NCJW focused on increasing awareness of human trafficking and child slavery. This year’s event continues that effort, as fair trade can reduce the incidence of both.
“There is a need for fair trade purchase decisions in our daily lives to ensure we reduce our harmful footprint on the world,” said Maleyev. “Keep in mind that purchasing fair trade not only helps the environment, it provides humane working conditions for those in the supply chain, ensures a living wage for the workers, does not allow for exploitation of women and children, and yields sustainable growth in the economies where these companies are located.
“The goal of ending child slavery goes hand in hand with the global goals of abolishing extreme poverty, protecting our environment and supporting women and families in the developing world. Children are the most vulnerable citizens of our world and, to protect them, we must ensure we do not support corporations that exploit them. If we, as consumers, make conscious purchase decisions daily, we can directly impact the economic sustainability of ethical corporations.”
About the Etz Chayim event, Gross said, “Ultimately, what struck me was a comment by one attendee … ‘Anyone who knows their Torah should be a strong supporter of fair trade.’ Amen to that!”
Rebeca Kuropatwa is a Winnipeg freelance writer.