Buying a better world

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Local community members gather to discuss ethical consumption

Kay Niedermayer
Contributor

On Wednesday Jan. 23, the Saskatchewan Council for International Cooperation (SCIC) kicked off a new discussion series called, “A Gathering of Global Minds.” The series is aimed at opening discussions around global social justice issues, and invites the Regina community to learn and share their experiences around prominent issues.

This month, the series hosted a discussion titled “Buying a Better World: Is Ethical Consumerism the Answer?” at the Artful Dodger.

The evening began with a panel discussion by three community members who shared their knowledge and experience working in various areas of Fair Trade: crafts, coffee, and cocoa.

The panelists consisted of Alicia Miller, a University of Regina student studying International Studies and the assistant manager of Ten Thousand Villages, Annabel Townsend, an expert in coffee cooperatives, and Nathan Van Betuw, another U of R student studying Industrial Engineering, who recently had the opportunity to visit Ghana and work with cocoa cooperatives.

As SCIC’s executive director, Jenn Bergen, suggested at the beginning of the night, “[Fair trade] is often touted as the solution to the world’s problems. But, what we want to talk about is how it actually impacts the lives of poor farmers, if there are other ethical options available to consumers who are looking to buy better, or is the notion of buying ourselves a better world misguided, [and] perhaps damaging?”


“[Fair trade] is often touted as the solution to the world’s problems. But, what we want to talk about is how it actually impacts the lives of poor farmers, if there are other ethical options available to consumers who are looking to buy better, or is the notion of buying ourselves a better world misguided, [and] perhaps damaging?” – Jenn Bergen


The discussion mainly focused on fair trade as an alternative to the flaws of the capitalist system. However, the panelists also shared some criticisms of the fair trade – a system that still operates, exists within, and reacts to the capitalist system.

As one attendee pointed out, while Fair Trade is intended to provide a better price than other markets, it does not necessarily provide a price for a farmer’s decent standard of living, and questioned how agency producers picked their price within the Fair Trade system.

Another attendee, Nathaniel Cole, commented that the discussion was engaging, “although I must say I feel like we only scratched the surface.”

“To me, if you really care about ethical consumerism, buy local and support cooperatives. If you care about your carbon footprint, maybe giving up your coffee or chocolate addiction would be a good start? Fair and direct trade is the lesser evil – the ‘feel-good’ evil of capitalism,” Cole said.

Although the Gathering of Global Minds discussion only scratched the surface of the ethical consumerism dilemma, participants were happy to know that a space had been created for people to question the extent of a fair trade system, and share their various view points on how consumerism and purchasing power can change the world.

SCIC hopes to host more discussion series in the next few months, with upcoming discussion nights delving into topics such as voluntourism and slacktivism.

More details about upcoming discussions and events can be found through SCIC’s website at earthbeat.sk.ca

Photo courtesy of fairtradevancouver.ca

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