Ethics are the bot­tom line

Bun busi­ness puts spot­light on ad­van­tages of fair trade

Winnipeg Free Press - SundayXtra - - ONCE OVER - By Adam Wazny WFP

I

Twas a de­ci­sion Jon McPhail spent a fair amount of time on. But at the end of the day, the owner of Jon­nies Sticky Buns knew if he was go­ing to con­tinue to ex­pand his prac­tices of buy­ing lo­cal, or­ganic in­gre­di­ents for his de­li­cious baked goods, seek­ing out fair- trade op­tions was the next move to make. The 31- year- old, who’s been run­ning his sticky- buns joint since De­cem­ber 2010, al­ready had fair- trade cof­fee and tea avail­able for his cus­tomers, but lately his at­ten­tion has been on the menu. His new­est ad­di­tion: fair- trade choco­late. “It’s been some­thing that has re­ally been at the back of my mind, even be­fore I opened,” he said Satur­day af­ter­noon, dur­ing a “car­rot­mob” event at his Portage Av­enue bak­ery. “Where can I push fur­ther with fair trade? Once I started to look at it closer, I saw some op­por­tu­ni­ties to try a few things.”

“It’s some­thing that be­cause the pro­duc­tion is so far away, it doesn’t feel as im­me­di­ate to our sur­round­ings,” he con­tin­ued. “That was an el­e­ment to this that I wasn’t so quick to pick up on; you’re not deal­ing di­rectly with the farmer or the per­son who is pro­duc­ing the prod­uct.

“Some­times you can get lost just by the brand. It’s im­por­tant to know that your pur­chase could have reper­cus­sions half­way around the world.”

This is the ba­sic premise of fair trade. Why just con­sider your pur­chases at the gro­cery store as only im­pact­ing you and your im­me­di­ate fam­ily? Why not look be­yond the la­bel, and even be­yond the price point, and con­sider how the worker who helped pro­duce said prod­uct is be­ing treated?

Ian Hud­son, an as­so­ci­ate pro­fes­sor in the eco­nom­ics depart­ment at the Univer­sity of Manitoba, is the co- au­thor of Fair Trade, Sus­tain­abil­ity and So­cial Change, a book that ex­am­ines the evo­lu­tion and po­ten­tial of fair trade as a global pro­duc­tion move­ment.

“Ev­ery time you’re buy­ing some­thing, you’re buy­ing the way it’s pro­duced, as well as the prod­uct it­self,” Hud­son said. “Fair trade just makes sure that what you buy is pro­duced in a more eth­i­cal man­ner: the peo­ple who make it are paid a higher wage, there’s no child labour in­volved, the en­vi­ron­ment is treated bet­ter.

“If you’re go­ing to buy some­thing, you’re al­ways faced with a choice. You might as well make the right one.”

Like its or­ganic brothers and sis­ters, fair­trade prod­ucts are still bat­tling the stigma of that in­flated price point. Jan­ice Hamil­ton, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Manitoba Coun­cil for In­ter­na­tional Co­op­er­a­tion, in­di­cates fair- trade prod­ucts of­ten have an ex­tra pre­mium at­tached to the price, a sub­sidy that goes back to the producers. That money is of­ten fed back into busi­ness im­prove­ments ( equip­ment) or even into the com­mu­nity, for things such as a health cen­tre or a school.

Hamil­ton said while the cost of fair- trade prod­ucts is slightly more than a sim­i­lar prod­uct made by work­ers in less eth­i­cal con­di­tions, the bump is neg­li­gi­ble. This is one of the stereo­types fair- trade types are try­ing to change.

“If you look at cof­fee, peo­ple are will­ing to pay for re­ally good, fair- trade pre­mium cof­fee beans and won’t even think twice about it any­more,” she said. “The stuff in the big cans is cheaper, but it’s not as good. That’s the trade- off more are wil­ing to make.”

Hamil­ton adds fair- trade prod­ucts are read­ily avail­able in su­per­mar­kets, drug­stores and even gas sta­tions, so it’s not as if peo­ple have to go out of their way. All it takes is just a mo­ment or two to read the la­bel.

“We have done polling in the past in Manitoba and we found peo­ple are will­ing to pay more for a prod­uct if they know peo­ple are be­ing paid fairly and not sub­jected to ad­di­tional stresses in the work­place,” she added.

Be­sides choco­late, McPhail is plan­ning to add some fair- trade su­gar op­tions to his list of in­gre­di­ents. Call­ing the switch to more ex­pen­sive bak­ing sta­ples “an ex­per­i­ment,” he says the trick is to make it work with what the cus­tomers are will­ing to pay. For a small busi­ness that re­lies on the ba­sic prin­ci­ple of mak­ing only enough that you will sell, McPhail says it’s worth the risk.

“That will be the chal­lenge go­ing for­ward,” he said. “It’s just feels right.”

RUTH BON­NEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jon McPhail of Jon­nies Sticky Buns shows his wares dur­ing a ‘ car­rot­mob’ celebration Satur­day af­ter­noon.

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