Live Well, Do Good

Consumerism and Conscience Meet for Holiday Shopping

Brandon Sun, December 12, 2011 - Zack Gross

I love giving gifts and, more than that, I love shopping for them!  As someone who has lived in rural Manitoba most of my adult life, I have more and more taken advantage of on-line shopping (I also love getting email, mail and courier).  For me, getting that loved one just the right gift (or what I think they should get) is just so satisfying, I almost don’t need anything in return!

Of course, regular readers will know that I give a lot of fair trade gifts.  I am a great believer in fair trade products that pay the producer and worker a fair wage and do less harm to the environment. 

So, again this year, my family will be receiving the usual fair trade coffees, teas, chocolate, clothing and my latest discovery:  fair trade gummy bears!

A mainstay of my fair trade holiday shopping is Jolica, a company that works with artisans in seven Third World countries in Asia and Latin America, providing good wages and training, while bringing to our North American market beautiful jewelry and accessories.  A new company on the block which I like is Fair Planet which got its start thanks to a Winnipeg entrepreneur – a young mother who had worked in Uganda with people with disabilities and saw that importing and marketing their basketry, toys, kitchenware and more would create needed employment and revenue for them and their families. 

Of course, Brandon’s two pioneer fair trade stores are Ten Thousand Villages (TTV) and the Marquis Project’s Worldly Goods shop, both on Rosser Avenue.

TTV, through its connection to the Mennonite Church and Mennonite Central Committee, has worked for a half-century with poor communities around the world, supporting their economic development initiatives.  Marquis, meanwhile, founded over thirty years ago in Brandon, continues to support projects in East Africa and to educate Westman students on a range of global issues.

These days, mainstream stores including all the major grocery chains, carry fair trade foods and beverages, while Manitoba Liquor Marts now sell about twenty-five Fair Trade Certified wines from South Africa, Argentina and Chile.  I have certainly enjoyed doing the market research (tasting) and can assure the reader that fair trade wines are of good quality and reasonably priced.  They are mixed in with their country sections in the stores, or sometimes are included in the organic wines section.

There are likely times when I am too zealous with my fair trade giving.  While visiting a cousin of mine, I looked in his freezer for something and found what I would guess are all the bags of coffee that I have ever given him.  Maybe he’s not drinking them because he is trying to corner the market by hoarding them out of sight!  Fair trade chocolates for him, next time!

The latest challenge to giving fair trade products comes from the world of professional sports.  With the return of the NHL Jets (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers) to Winnipeg and the success of the other major franchises in Manitoba (the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Blue Bombers) – and of course with the perennially successful Brandon Wheat Kings being the toast of the Southwest – money going to the purchase of game tickets and all manner of paraphernalia has cut into every consumer’s disposable income. 

A recent media report showed how culture and the arts, as well as many charities, are suffering these days financially and at the box office, largely because people are going to hockey, football and baseball games and buying logo jerseys, hats, t-shirts and jackets.  And, certainly, our recession isn’t helping, either!

When my eldest son and daughter-in-law recently celebrated a wedding anniversary, we abandoned the idea of giving them something useful for their home or van (which we usually do) and got them matching Jets hoodies!  Who knew they were Calgary Flames fans?  Is that legal in Manitoba?

For the holidays, along with the usual fair trade stuff and quirky things that I find on the Internet, the kids are getting various bits of Jets gear, such as a key chain, a pair of socks, a mug and a sweatshirt (so far).  My coup de grace (or cup de Gross) is a Winnipeg Jets Christmas Tree ornament, made of a durable, heavy and expensive plastic substance!  Merry Jetsmas!  It’s not all bad news for the social activist as much of the Jets apparel is made, actually, in rural Manitoba.  Sourcing fair trade cotton products for Jets-giving will be the next challenge.

In all of our frantic running around at this time of year, it is not always easy to remember “intentionality” while shopping.  That is, making sure that among the gifts we buy are items that are green (good to the environment) and fair trade (good to people). 

After all, isn’t that what it is all about anyway? 

These should be holidays where we celebrate making a difference in people’s lives.

* * *

Zack Gross works for the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 40 international development organizations active in the province.

See also:

"Small World" Column (Brandon Sun) by Zack Gross

Third World Tourism Should Benefit Hosts, Environment 

Reflecting on Consumption

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