Is Fair Trade Enough?

A few months ago my colleague, Jenn wrote about the chocolate industry and how if it’s not fair trade chocolate, there is a good chance child slavery has played a role in it’s production. Now, child slavery isn’t involved in every consumer good that isn’t labeled “fair trade”, but child slavery isn’t the only injustice that fair trade aims to tackle.

According to Fair Trade Canada “to ensure the farmers and artisans behind those products get a better deal. Most often this is understood to mean better prices for producers”. It also means that the products (garments, produce, etc.) are produced with fair labour, with fair wages and better working conditions.

Now does this mean that the working conditions are really better than those working for a non-fair trade company. I’m skeptical, I mean I’m sure they are better, but are they really that much better? I think this would be a difficult aspect of fair trade to monitor, I’m sure that there is monitoring of working conditions but I’m not sure how effective they are.

Regardless of the effectiveness of the fair trade label, I am still a supporter. I know that it is far from perfect but it is still better than the alternative, in terms of fairness for the farmers and artisans in the developing world. However, I don’t think that this is the solution to putting an end to forced labour, child labour, unsafe working conditions, etc that are all present in the production of many products we all buy.

My reasoning behind this is fairly logical, our society loves a bargain. With retailers like Wal-Mart, H&M, and Old Navy always supplying consumers with “great deals” on their products, it’s hard to resist. These companies are able to offer such great deals because of the way they produce their products, as cheaply as possible, so they can still make a profit off while selling their products for cheap. The truth is, there is a pretty high cost for these products but the consumer isn’t the one that has to pay it, it’s the labourers that pay the high price of a great bargain.

Wal-Mart has been found to be involved in child labour in Bangladesh with a factory that supplies some of their garments. The cotton used in much of H&M’s stylish clothing has been bought from plantations in Uzbekistan where child labour is used to pick the cotton. The Gap (the company that owns Old Navy) has for years now been known to use child and forced labour in extremely poor working conditions to produce their garments. I could go on with more examples of well known companies that have been caught or suspected of using child or forced labour in the production of their products but I would be here for days as there are very few companies that are not tainted by these types of speculation.

Both Wal-Mart and the Gap have been in the public eye before for these same reasons, yet they have not changed much. Both are still suspected of producing their goods in poor conditions paying workers unacceptably low wages for long hard hours. Yet both companies continue to thrive, Wal-mart brought in over 30 billion dollars last year, and the Gap brought in over 6 billion last year.

Fair trade is not the answer to stopping child, forced, and unfair labour because it is still happening and will continue to happen. The poor in the developing world will continue to be exploited because everybody loves a bargain. Companies that offer these bargains aren’t going to stop selling their products cheaply because that’s what the consumer wants and that’s what makes them money. The only way fair trade can put an end child, forced and unfair labour is to get everyone on board, and that won’t happen unless there isn’t a demand for a deal. Sadly, I think there will always be a demand for bargain.

What do you think? Feel free to comment below!

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Lasting effects of Agent Orange

Growing up in Canada, we never really learned all that much about the Vietnam War in history class, we learned that it had happened as a part of the cold war, and America’s fear of communism spreading. So, until I confirmed that I would be going to Vietnam for my 8-month field placement I didn’t really have that much of an interest in the war. After the French colonists left the country after being defeated by the Viet Minh (who later would become the leaders of the communist North Vietnam) in 1954 the country became divided. The country was split in half, the North communist, the South non-communist. The North, or the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, wanted control of the entire country. This, during the Cold War, meant that the United States were afraid of the spread of communism, they believed that if one country in Southeast Asia fell to communism more would follow. The Viet Cong and Northern Vietnamese militia who know the landscape of Vietnam well, and the Americans did not, in an effort to take away forest cover and crops away from the Viet Cong and the Northern Vietnamese the Americans put Operation Ranch Hand into action. Operation Ranch Hand was what the U.S. military called spraying the herbicide known as Agent Orange on forests and crops in an effort to gain an advantage in the war. Exposure to Agent Orange has had a number of negative health and ecological effects of Vietnam and it’s people. The Red Cross Vietnam estimates that up to one million people have been affected by Agent Orange, having birth defects, disabilities, or have become terminally ill with cancer. On top of the health issues that the Vietnamese have faced because of Agent Orange, the chemical also caused extreme environmental damage. Millions of hectares of Vietnamese forests were sprayed by Agent Orange causing loss of forest cover, erosion and decreasing biodiversity. Some of these areas are still unable to be reforested today because they are so polluted. It will be interesting to see first hand the devastation Agent Orange has caused, as I will likely see some of the areas where it was sprayed during the Vietnam War, or as they call it in Vietnam the “American War”.

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Racism in the NFL and MLB

Recently, there has been a lot of talk over the NFL team the Washington Redskins and a call for them to change their name and mascot.

The NBA recently placed a lifetime ban on L.A. Clippers owner for making a racist comment to his girlfriend in a recorded private conversation. This recording was leaked to the public and the NBA players and commissioners office responded quickly. The LA Clippers team, playing in the NBA playoffs at the time of the scandal, wore their uniforms inside-out so the team name would not be shown. Other teams did the same to show solidarity in their views of Clippers owner Donald Sterling. The NBA commissioner soon placed a lifetime ban from the NBA on Donald Sterling stripping him from all of his power.

The racist comments that Donald Sterling made were in a private conversation, the Washington Redskins of the NFL name and mascot are public. That means that the team sells merchandise with images of the team logo, mascot and name, which some Native Americans take offense to. According to a recent study at California State University San Bernadino, 67% of Native Americans take offense to the Washington Redskins name, mascot and logo. The name “Redskins” is a racial slur just like the comments made by Mr. Sterling, yet, the team and the league have done nothing to change it.

There are some Native Americans that do not take offense to the name, and say that they like it and they are honored to be associated with the team. Regardless of whether or not there are some Native Americans that do not take offense to the Washington Redskins, there are those that do, and for that reason I think that there should be action on the part of the team and the league.

The NFL is not the only professional sports league turning a blind eye to racist images; the MLB and the Cleveland Indians are doing the same. The Cleveland Indians mascot Chief Wahoo, is another mascot that is blatantly racist, yet Major League Baseball and the Cleveland Indians haven’t done anything to change it. For many years, there have been annual protests outside of the stadium where the Cleveland Indians play baseball to put an end to the racist mascot. These protests have mostly been ignored by the team and Major League Baseball. All they have done is move Chief Wahoo to the sleeves of their jerseys rather than on the front of the jersey, and replaced Chief Wahoo with a “C” on their hats.

My view on Chief Wahoo is the same as the Washington Redskins; if there are people who take offense to it, then the mascot should go.

Another interesting observation is that sports teams don’t use any other race in their imagery; they only use Native Americans. I want to know why these teams think it is okay to use Native American imagery when no team would ever even think about using other races like African-American, or Asian imagery to don their jerseys.

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I don’t know about you, but I don’t think any of these racist logos would ever be acceptable, so why should it be okay for teams in the MLB and NFL to use racist images of Native Americans for their logo?

Sustainable Rural Development

SRD - Centre for Sustainable Rural Development

As an International Development student at the University of Waterloo I am required to complete a 8-month field placement at a development organization in a developing country. That means that starting in September I will be living in Hue, Vietnam and working for the Center for Sustainable Rural Development or SRD.

According to SRD 90 percent of Vietnam’s poor live in rural areas. SRD’s mandate is to “support poor rural communities to adapt to the changing environment and sustainably manage their own livelihoods.” Vietnam has a coastline of approximately 3000km and is expected to be one of the countries most affected by rising sea levels.

I must admit I don’t know much about Vietnam or the risks climate change poses to the country other then floods. I am excited to learn more from SRD about how they aim to reduce the impact of climate change. Also growing up in an urban environment I know little about agriculture. The only knowledge I possess on sustainable agriculture comes from reading and writing on the topic for school papers with absolutely no hands-on knowledge.

Not surprisingly, according to this article, Vietnamese agriculture is what is at the highest risk of being negatively effected by climate change. Agricultural lands are on two major deltas both of which are near the coast and both are at risk of rising sea levels. If this area were to flood the amount of arable land in Vietnam would be significantly reduced and its people would suffer a loss of their livelihoods.

An increase in extreme weather, such as typhoons, floods and droughts also pose a threat the agricultural activities in Vietnam. I am interested to see first hand how people are adapting to the these threats created by climate change.

 

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F-ck The Poor?

If you haven’t seen this video yet, it’s worth a minute of your time. It shows how people do care about the poor but not enough to really do anything about it.

I also might add that I too tend to turn the other cheek when I see someone begging on the street. Walking downtown Toronto you see many homeless people asking for spare change, but not many people stopping and emptying their pockets. I know that I am not one to often stop and drop a quarter in their empty Tim Horton’s cup. Why is that? It’s not that I don’t care about the poor is it? Obviously, I do care, but when talking about development issues, the topic of homelessness in developed countries doesn’t get brought up often. Most of the time, if homelessness is brought up, it is about homelessness in a developing country.

When homelessness in Canada gets brought up, a common theme talked about is drug and alcohol abuse. I think that this is a stigma attached to the homeless in developed countries that makes people look away or cross the street when they see a homeless person begging on the streets of a big city. Most people, myself included, figure that if you give them any money it is just going to feed their addiction. I have talked to someone that once lived on the streets and they too said that the money they got went towards buying alcohol to feed their alcoholism. According to nationalhomeless.org 38% of homeless abuse alcohol and another 26% abused other drugs. This is a sad truth, but giving money to the homeless directly isn’t the only way to show you care.

I prefer to support organizations that offer support to the poor in other ways. Like homeless shelters, the food bank, rehab and addiction centers, are all ways that I personally feel are more helpful than giving spare change directly to the poor. I’m not saying that all homeless are addicts and are going to use the money to feed addictions, I just feel like supporting these types of organizations that provide services to the poor are more helpful.

What is your opinion? Leave me a comment to let me know.

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When We Got it Wrong

 

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In my last post I talked about the how there are people in Canada living in third world conditions, conditions so bad that it forces some who live in those conditions to commit suicide. I’m talking about Canada’s Aboriginal Reserves, many of these reserves conditions are so poor that a UN investigator, James Anaya, says that Canada faces a crisis when it comes to their Aboriginal Reserves, and that it brings up human rights issues. So, where did Canada go wrong? How about the damage they created with residential schools?

In the 19th and 20th century the Canadian Government thought it was their duty to educate and care for Canada’s aboriginal people, they did this by creating residential schools. From 1857 to 1996 over 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Métis went through these schools. So what makes these schools so bad?

Well for starters, the goal of these schools was to assimilate aboriginal peoples to the rest of Canada because the government thought that the aboriginal cultures would not be able to keep up with the modern world. The Government’s way of solving this was to take children away from their families and stick them in residential schools. Schools that were often far from their families, where children were separated from their families for extended periods of time. Separated so they would no longer have the influence of their culture. Schools where they were forced to learn English, Christianity and Canadian customs. They were punished for speaking their native languages, or practicing their traditions. The government was attempting to abolish any Native culture. Sounds pretty bad doesn’t it? Well it gets worse.

On top of Residential Schools forcing Western values and beliefs on the Aboriginal children forced into attending these schools, they also faced different forms of abuse. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse in residential schools were all common occurrences for the children attending these schools. This sounds pretty awful doesn’t it? Well it gets worse still, at least 4000 children died in these schools, which failed to keep them safe and healthy.

What about the damage these schools had on the Aboriginal communities? In this article, Martha Marsden, who attended a residential school said this “When I came out of residential school, when they finally shut it down, I went back into a community that was 95 per cent alcoholics,”. A community that was so damaged by residential school that in order to cope with it, they turned to alcoholism and other substance abuse. To better understand the emotional stress and lasting damage residential schools have had on those who have been through them, I urge you to listen to this poem from a man who attended a residential school. https://soundcloud.com/cbc-radio-one/i-hate-you-residential-school

So with this dark point in Canadian history out of the way what’s happened since the last Residential School shut it’s doors in 1996? Well in 2008, the Canadian Prime Minister officially apologized to Canada’s First Nations, Inuit and Métis groups. That’s right, it took the Canadian Government 12 years after the last school closed to apologize. On top of the apology, Aboriginals that attended the schools are eligible to receive compensation in the form of $10,000 dollars for the first year they attended a residential school and $3000 for every additional year spent in a residential school. As nice as cold hard cash is, I don’t think the Canadian Government can make up for what these people have been through. Although the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a good start.

Since the 2008 apology there has been a Truth and Reconciliation Commission effort that aims to bring out the truth in what happened in residential schools in order for those that went through the residential school system can heal and move forward. I think this is important for all Canadians to know the truth about residential schools and the harm it has caused. That Canada is not perfect and we like so many other countries has a disturbing past. I hope people look back on this period of history and liken it to that of the cruelty of slavery and the brutality of the gladiators.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on residential schools in the comments below.

If you want to learn more here are some interesting links:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/a-history-of-residential-schools-in-canada-1.702280

http://reconciliationcanada.ca/welcome/history/

 

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Third World Conditions, First World Problems

Nunavut

“Canada consistently ranks among the top of countries in respect to human development standards, and yet amidst this wealth and prosperity, aboriginal people live in conditions akin to those in countries that rank much lower and in which poverty abounds,”

Last summer I spent five weeks in Guadalajara, Mexico to learn Spanish. While I was there my teacher and I were talking about the many different native groups that resided in Mexico and how poorly they are treated. These native groups are poor and in order to make money the native children sell candy, cigarettes and toys in the large cities of Mexico. My teacher showed me a disturbing video of a grown man forcing this native boy to take all of the candy, cigarettes and toys out of box and throw them on the ground. The boy was about 8 years old and was in tears. Unfortunately I was unable to find the video to show you. Watching this video, I couldn’t help but think of how poorly Canadians treat native groups in our own country.

In Canada, there are often different native groups protesting about one thing or another. When these protests happen I often hear comments like “what the hell do they want now?” or “they signed the treaties, it’s their own fault” or whatever other ignorant comments you can think of. Sure, they signed the treaties, but that should mean that that deserve to be respected and accommodated the same as every other Canadian. There are Canadian citizens living in extreme poverty conditions and we are not doing much (if anything at all) about it. As the article states, youth suicide rates on reserves are five times higher than the rest of Canada. Your eyes aren’t playing a trick on you; you’ve read that correctly. Five times higher. This is a sad truth; a truth that should no longer be a reality. It’s time to finally start caring a little more about our own citizens.

According to the 2011 census, Stats Canada reported that approximately 1,400,000 people, or 4.3% of Canada’s population is part of a native group (First Nations, Métis, or Inuit). That makes up a fairly large proportion of the population. A fairly large proportion of the population that is living in poor conditions.

A CBC news article published just a few days ago stated that 68 percent of the Inuit population in Nunavut are food insecure. That statistic makes me absolutely sick. I mean, seriously? This is Canada! We are supposed to be some of the friendliest, compassionate people in the world, at least according to the stereotype. Canadians do seem to care about people suffering from food insecurity in other countries. I see World Vision ads every day depicting a starving child somewhere in Africa. If World Vision didn’t get results from these ads, they wouldn’t keep showing them, right? So Canadians must care about those hungry in Africa, and don’t get me wrong, they should! All I am saying is we need to start caring about those who are hungry in our own country as well.

The CBC article has this quote right in the middle of the article in big bold letters :’Folks in the South, I hope they’re shocked and I hope they’re embarrassed.’– David Natcher. Well, I am embarrassed. I am embarrassed because I really had no idea it was that bad.

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Chasing Ice, A Fitting Title

Recently a friend of mine told me to watch this documentary called “Chasing Ice”, so when I had a bit of time I sat down, opened Netflix and did. I had heard about the documentary before, but I must admit, before I was told I should watch it, I had no interest in it. I knew it was about climate change and, to be frank, I had no interest in hearing about how the future is doomed.

All of the other climate change documentaries that I have watched have bombarded me with scientific facts that I didn’t understand, and wasn’t too interested in figuring it out. This documentary was different, they don’t focus on the science of climate change. They focus on showing the audience that it is happening, and its happening fast. The idea of the “Chasing Ice” documentary belongs to nature photographer James Balog. Balog witnessed glaciers melting at alarming rates and got the idea to set up several cameras around several glaciers and set them up to time lapse photographs over several years. He called this effort the Extreme Ice Survey, which combines science and art to give audiences a visual aid of what climate change is doing to the earth.

PPM of Carbon in the Atmosphere

PPM of Carbon in the Atmosphere

So as I understand it, climate change is happening because of the human induced increase in greenhouse gas emissions over the last century. The effect of this is rising temperatures and melting glaciers. James Balog’s TED talk, where he talks about climate change and shows the time lapse proof climate change.

So why should we care about climate change, a possible 5˚C rise in the overall climate doesn’t sound so bad for us Canadians.  Well that rise in temperature will cause an increase in natural disasters. Natural disasters like flash floods, forest fires, droughts and tropical storms will all occur more frequently with a higher degree of severity. Due to my past experience with natural disasters, I have seen first hand the destruction that comes with natural disasters and that is something that we simply don’t need more of. This graph taken from Chasing Ice shows the increase in natural disasters in the United States since 1980.

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I believe that people (myself included) need to start caring more about the environment and start making a better effort to reduce our impact on the environment. This is easier said than done, as I have a typical North American ecological footprint. Last year alone I was on a total of 8 planes just further increasing my footprint.

After looking at James Balog’s photographs of the retreating glaciers, it made me think of a lyric in the City and Colour song “Comin’ Home”. That lyric is “I’ll never take any pictures cause I know I’ll just be right back”, well I think he should reconsider that philosophy cause the landscape is changing and its not going to be the same the next time you see it.

It’s time to start taking the environment more seriously, this is a problem that’s not going anywhere and it’s a problem that effects everyone.

Thanks for the read, leave your comments below!

 

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Why Espwa?

You may be wondering why my blog is titled “espwa”. “Espwa” is a word that I learned while I was in Haiti, it is Haitian Creole for hope. As lame as it may sound, I named my blog this because I have hope that change is possible. I believe change is possible because it doesn’t take an army to make a positive impact in the world, all it takes is a small group of people that care. Change Heroes is a great example of that, for those of you are unaware of the social enterprise, they have a platform that if you desire and can convince 30 of your friends to get on board you can easily raise enough money to build a school in the developing world. This post isn’t about Change Heroes though, so I’m not going to analyze their platform. This post is about how it doesn’t take too many people to care in order to make a difference.

The problem is getting people to care, because I believe that there are a lot of people that just don’t. With the world news right at our finger tips I think that the overload of human suffering that we see daily thanks to the internet has turned our society into an apathetic one. Now, although I am of the opinion that we are an apathetic society, I do believe that there are still a lot of people who do care enough to be an engine of change. That is why I have hope that we have a positive impact on the developing world. I care, do you?

Thanks for the read, please leave comments below!

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Why I’m Here

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All throughout high school I never really thought about going to university, it just didn’t seem like a fit for me. I thought that I was more suited for a skilled trade, not because my grades weren’t high enough, but because I didn’t have any motivation to pursue anything at University.

That all changed after a short trip to Haiti in January of 2010. My Mom, Aunt and cousin were all planning on going on a mission trip to Haiti to work on an orphanage/school/clinic in the fall of 2009 with their church. I decided that I wanted to go with them, mainly because I was bored and thought it sounded interesting. So I started fundraising with them and raised enough money that the trip cost me very little. We left for Haiti on January 6, 2010 and were supposed to return a week later on the 13th of January, however those plans were stalled due to the earthquake that devastated the country on January 12 at 4:53pm.

Prior to the earthquake the trip seemed kind of pointless. We were in a guarded compound which had an orphanage, clinic and school and my “job” while there was to construct a water-pipeline from the top of the mountain where the water cistern was to the bottom where the orphanage was. However, due to poor planning there were too many workers and I mostly just stood around with nothing to do.

Once the earthquake happened, thousands of people started pouring into the tiny clinic all through the night and the days to come with injuries sustained during the earthquake. This is when I could be of some use to them, I helped in the clinic doing triage to the Haitians that kept coming. Although I had no training or experience with this type of work I felt as if I was actually doing something.

Eventually after being stuck in Haiti for an extra 5 days we were evacuated by the Canadian government on January 18th. On the way to the Canadian Embassy is when I realized how much death and destruction the earthquake had caused, as I was unable to leave the complex prior to the evacuation process. As we drove by we saw former hospitals, schools and even the presidential palace reduced to rubble. Eventually, after a very long couple of days we were home.

Once I was home, I started to think about how unfair it is that the Haitians were unfortunate and I was so fortunate to be born in one of the wealthiest countries in the world with so many opportunities. This is when I started to think about what I could do to improve the fate of those less fortunate. I started to talk to my step mom’s boss who used to work for development organizations, he guided me in the direction of International Development programs at Guelph and Waterloo.

Anyways, that’s why I decided to come to university and why I’m in the International Development program.

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