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Your dollars spent fairly

United Church Speaks - op/ed submission by Rosemary Manarin

Lynne Miskell of Castlegar United has long been interested in supporting the fair-trade concept. Lynne sells fair-trade coffee at our church.

At Castlegar United, coffee time after the Sunday service is an important part of our community life and it’s fairly traded coffee exclusively that is served.

For us, as people of faith, what we eat and drink, what we buy, matters. Making these choices reflects our commitment to justice and mercy as Christians. I recently interviewed Lynne in her home.

Rose: How did you first become so involved in supporting the fair-trade alternative?

Lynne: My daughter, Tyrion, went to Simon Fraser University and became a member of a university young people’s organization called BCCASA. They had a relationship with the Guatemalan peasants because at that time in the 1990’s there was a civil war in Guatemala and many of the people were displaced and their lives disrupted. Through BCCASA, Tyrion went down to Guatemala several times and was active in the villages where the people were developing a coffee industry. Over the four years she visited, she could see a huge difference in the life and assets of the villagers because they had a market for the coffee and a guaranteed fair price set by the fair-trade cooperatives before the coffee was harvested. Unlike the large corporations’ free trade market where not only the price was set later by supply and demand, but also the price would be the lowest possible. The coffee cooperative was done as a village enterprise so all of the people in the village contributed and benefitted. The Mayan people’s philosophy is very much community oriented. They work together for the good of the whole village. For example there were women’s support groups, child minding and after a few years their own trucks for transporting the beans themselves to market.

Rose: Why is this so important? Why are you so committed?

Lynne: My belief is that people have to make their living and they deserve a fair price for their work. The fair-trade price has to be fair but it is not a hand out. These people are working and the attitude of fair-trade is more thoughtful, caring and just. Our free trade system is that you grow or make a product and the price fluctuates depending on the global market. Vietnam was told by the World Bank, for example, to plant coffee to make money so they cut down their trees and planted coffee. Then there was a glut of coffee on the market, the price fell (through the free trade system) and the coffee industry was left in disastrous circumstances.

Rose: Your daughter manages the Ten Thousand Village Store where they sell all different types of fair-trade products from co-ops around the world. You must feel thrilled that her work is integral in benefitting huge numbers of marginalized people.

Lynne: Philosophically, she feels very much at home and useful not only in selling but also in promoting and educating people about fair-trade.

Rose: Supporting fair-trade is about commitment isn’t it? It’s about a belief of faith to care about our neighbours wherever they are.

Lynne: Yes, it is one of commitment. Ten Thousand Villages is just one example of many places where fair- trade or fairly traded products can be found.

Rose: Europe is at least 30 years ahead of us in supporting fair-trade cooperatives. It is heartening to know that Canada is now catching up in embracing this.

Lynne: Today, one can find fair-trade or fairly traded products in most grocery stores in the ethnic sections, organic areas as well as the coffee and tea aisles. As Christmas is the time for giving, it makes sense to give gifts that give twice. Giving fair trade products like chocolate, coffee, tea is one easy way to do this.

According to the Gospel of Matthew in 25 verse 40, Jesus answered, “Truly I tell you, just as you did for one of the least of these my brethren you did for me.’

For more information, phone Rosemary Manarin at 365- 6470