This article was translated to English from an original article written in Korean.
I am a former fair trade practitioner from South Korea, who is now working in a social economy organization called CITIES (Centre international de transfert d’innovations et de connaissances en économie sociale), in the province of Quebec, a region that is globally renown for its best practices in the social economy. Despite having lived in such a province for four years, I was not able to fully explore the fair trade network of Quebec until a couple of months ago for several reasons.
One reason is that although both French and English are the official languages of Quebec , the main civil society organizations in the social economy and fair trade movements are predominantly francophone. Another reason is that I had to take care of my then newborn child. Fortunately, in the last year, two new members—a new director-general with many years of experience working in a fair trade organization and an employee who speaks Korean and French—have joined the CITIES secretariat, allowing me to pursue the long overdue work of exploring the fair trade movement of Quebec in depth.
I will visit diverse fair trade events with my colleague and share our observations as well as the stories of the practitioners we meet along the way. This article, which highlights the 2019 Annual Meeting of Magasin du Monde, is the first of such a series.
Before we dive into the story of Magasin du Monde, let me first present a brief history of Quebec’s fair trade movement.
The basis of the fair trade movement of Quebec was laid in the 1990s. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, civil society actors formed ASEED (Action pour la solidarité, l’équité, l’environnement et le développement). It was registered as a non-profit in 1995, and changed its name to Equiterre in 1998. Those who were involved with Equiterre at the time contributed greatly to raising public awareness of fair trade in the early stages. Laure Waridel, one of the co-founders of Equiterre, and Eric St. Pierre, an activist, spent two months with the farmers of UCIRI coffee cooperative, a pioneer fair trade cooperative. Together, they published a book called Coffee with a Cause, and began their fair trade campaign.
In 1996, Oxfam Quebec established a fair trade programme division within the organization with the brand Equita. In 1997, Santropol, a restaurant that was serving vulnerable populations began to supply fair trade coffee, and in 1999, Café Rico, a small coffee roaster, became the first fair trade coffee roaster in Quebec. In the same year, Santropol also began to roast its fair trade coffee beans. Furthermore, La Siembra, a fair trade chocolate worker cooperative, was founded as a sustainable alternative enterprise model with the goal of reconnecting consumers and producers. In terms of retail stores, Ten Thousand Villages first opened its doors in Montreal in 2001, and Van Houtte begins to sell fair trade certified coffee the following year.
One of the most notable characteristics of Quebec’s social economy is the mutual cooperation between its diverse organizations. Similarly, fair trade campaigns have also been characterized by mutual cooperation between fair trade organizations. In 2009, Equita and La Siembra co-launched a fair trade chocolate campaign with the slogan “Not the Same.”
In 2011, Equiterre, Oxfam Quebec and other fair trade organizations established the Quebec Fair Trade Association. In 2017, the Association, together with Equiterre, launched the ‘Choisir Equitable (Choose Fair Trade)’ campaign. Every year in May, they host “Fair Trade Month”, and in September, “Fair Trade Campus Week”. Other programs of the Association include fair trade designation, ranging from fair trade campus, school, city, event, workplace, to fair trade religious events. Of all these fair trade campaigns, the student-run cooperative Magasin du Monde is one of the most popular.
Magasin du Monde is a student-run cooperative program run by Oxfam Quebec, and is one of Quebec’s most representative fair trade campaigns. The name ‘Magasin du Monde’ is the French version of Belgium’s ‘World Shop,’ a pioneer initiative of fair trade movement in Europe.
In Quebec, the program has evolved to be one that is primarily centered around students. The Magasin du Monde program is designed to allow high school and CEGEP students to work in a cooperative form and gain hands-on experience of the entire business process, from purchasing and selling fair trade products, to determining how to distribute the profits. The profits from the sales of fair trade are donated to an international development or a fair trade cause, determined democratically by the student members.
Magasin du Monde is an educational programme in which students work in a cooperative form gain practical experience in operating an enterprise, from purchasing and selling fair trade products, to accounting and distribution of profits. CITIES was given a precious opportunity to attend the Annual Meeting of Magasin du Monde, and observe the students in action.
On Friday, February 15, 2019, Hyuna Yi and I, representing the CITIES secretariat, arrived at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, where the Annual Meeting was to be held. When we arrived, supervising coaches, teachers, event organizers and fair trade suppliers had already gathered, creating a festive mood.
The event began with a keynote address by Denise Byrnes, the Director-General of Oxfam Quebec who was selected as one of the 100 most influential women of Canada. The keynote address was followed by presentations by people working in the fair trade sector, and a Q&A session with the students.
The first presentation was by Martin Van den Borre. Mr. Van den Borre, who is the Director of Supply and Production at La Siembra Cooperative, a former board director at Equal Exchange, an ambassador of the Small Producers’ Symbol, and also the Director-General of CITIES, explained the significance of the La Siembra in the fair trade movement as a worker cooperative. He emphasized that while farmers should receive fair wages enforced through fair trade certifications, more importantly, the economic system must change fundamentally. He continued that, to achieve this, it is not enough for multinational corporations to receive fair trade certifications and provide employment to farmers and labourers.
This is because although receiving fair wages constitutes an important right of labourers and farmers, simply meeting the minimum rights cannot rectify the unequal distribution of economic power in the hands of a few large corporations. That is why La Siembra began as a worker cooperative. Cooperatives and social economy organizations pursue not only democratic governance principles, but also cooperation with other social economy organizations for a greater socioeconomic transformation.
After Mr. Van den Borre, Fouzia Bazid of AQCE introduced the fair trade certifications that are officially recognized by the AQCE such as the Fair Trade International certification, and Small Producers’ Symbol. Next, Raphaelle Lauzon, the President of the Magasin du Monde at Oka Secondary University presented the activities of the Magasin du Monde at her school. Oka Secondary School is the only school that has received a legal status as a youth cooperative, and it has also been involved with the Magasin du Monde programme for the longest time, as one of its pioneer participating schools. To close the panel session, a marketing expert and consultant Gabriel Carrièrre presented the important facets of marketing for fair trade, and provided useful tips to the student audience.
After all the planned events were finished, the student participants, coaches, teachers, and Oxfam Quebec staff gathered for a group picture, and ended the day with the rally, “Together, we can change!”
Throughout the day, we were able to get to know the programme more in depth by interviewing students and fair trade organizations.
My journey at the Magasin du Monde was more than rewarding. This year, I am completing my second year of presidency. During the 2017-2018 year, I had the privilege of participating in the National Fair Trade Conference in Vancouver in March 2018. Then in the World March of the same year, I participated in a sponsorship activity with Nicolas Ouellet. The latter was very rewarding. To end my year in style, on August 12, I was invited to participate in the International Youth Day Recognition Gala, which highlights young people who are deeply involved [in their community] just like me. This year, at the Annual Meeting of Magasin du Monde, I was invited to share my experiences as well as to give some tips to promote a Magasin du Monde. I am also part of Oxfam Quebec’s 2018-2019 Youth Headquarters. I am a person who loves new challenges, and this is why this year I am committed to the “Fair City” designation for my city. Our school has been certified fair for three years now, which is why we would like to continue in this contemporary movement by making Oka a fair city. We will present our project to the General Assembly of the City on March 19th. With all these events, I had the chance to learn more about fair trade and meet great people.
During my two years as President, I believe that our main problems were related to communication and division of labor. As in all major groups, communication is important for the smooth running of a business. We use an online group chat, but sometimes we do not read all the messages or we forget about them. In addition, there is only a small part of the group that is involved more deeply and constantly in the project. What I mean is that when you have big projects in which you have to fill out documents, it is always the same [people] for the less pleasant part, but when it is time for awards at the banquet, the whole group is interested. This is the part that I like less, having to explain why some are better placed to receive the awards. My decision will inevitably displease some people.
[For division of labour] We rely on the charters that we voted on at the beginning of the year to show that we are doing the right thing.
I am a coach for the Magasin du Monde program at Oka Secondary school. We first participated in the program in its initial year, in 2006. Initially, five high schools participated in the pilot program. However, we were the only school to continue onto the second year. After the first year, we made $27,000 in sales. In the third year, other schools saw our experience and the program was expanded.
50% of the profits are donated to an Oxfam-Quebec project, and the other 50% is donated to an international development project chosen by the students. Last year, the students donated the profits to a women’s health initiative in Congo.
A student who was in charge of marketing at a Magasin du Monde has opened and manages two restaurants now. These restaurants are not fair trade certified, but the way they are managed are influenced [by the student’s involvement at Magasin du Monde and the fair trade principles]. One of these restaurants called L’Usine hires over 40 employees who are former students. He’s 25 years old.
There was a student who was isolated and lonely, and a teacher referred the student to me, asking if he could participate in the Magasin du Monde program. We put him in charge of marketing and communications, and he created posters. He eventually became a spokesperson for Marche du Monde one year and gave a speech about fair trade in front of over 6000 people. Some of the teachers were moved to tears.
La Siembra is a fair trade worker owner cooperative based in Ottawa, and we have been in business for about 20 years since we were incorporated in 1999. There are 15 employees in total including 10 worker members. We offer Canadian consumers diverse products including organic hot chocolate mixes, baking products, and chocolate bars.
We are at about 9 million dollars.
La Siembra imports all the raw materials, and then outsource the manufacturing. There are also some products that we import as a finished product like the chocolate bars made from a company in Switzerland or sugar and Panela which is directly processed by the small farmers in Peru and Paraguay.
We offer Magasin du Monde rates that would be similar to a fundraiser, like a church or a school. We’ve tried to create a program where students can make a 50% profit on every sale. We also receive invitations from certain schools to come talk to the kids. Finally, the kids have said themselves today at the Annual Meeting that La Siembra’s Camino chocolate bars are the number one seller at Magasin du Monde stores.
It is really important to start educating early because these are the people who are going to bring this to the university level. They are going to try to make changes on campus. It is a great program because it is programs like Magasin du Monde that allow us to immerse them and teach them because they are not going to get this from their education in school.
We have participated in the Annual Meeting of Magasin du Monde every year. I was extremely impressed. We had young kids coming up to us this year, some of whom I recognize from last year’s annual meeting, who were seriously thinking about their Magasin du Monde a proper business and trying to find ways of promoting fair trade. They have a lot of passion for the selling of fair trade goods, and ask important questions. At last year’s Annual Meeting, there was an exercise called Speed Dating where representatives from each school sat in a circle and presented their best marketing idea in under five minutes as their peers and suppliers go around. I was really impressed by their creativity. I remember they were taking a product like tea that doesn’t speak to too many young children and they were making mocktail.
Yes. And another group purchased a credit card tap machine as a lot of students and faculty do not carrying change anymore. I do not know how much these machines cost, but they found a solution to people not carrying around change. Their creativity and drive are pretty remarkable. At this year’s Annual Meeting, they are not doing the Speed Dating exercise, but table discussions by their respective roles in the Magasin du Monde program.
There are little challenges, nothing major at all. For example, there are schools that are not allowed to sell any chocolate other than on special occasions or certain schools have very strict allergen policies so that eliminates a lot of our products. Also, because of the relationship between the school and the school board, it takes a long time for the cheque to arrive, so receiving payments for the product has been challenging at times to receive payments. Overall, however, it has been a great relationship since the beginning.
No, not really. We are a really small team and we’re stretched pretty thin. The responsibility rests on everybody’s shoulders to constantly be advocates for Camino, but we don’t exactly have someone going out and lobbying for us in every province or anything like that. But we do have bloggers who are our advocates. We call them Camino Amigos. Everyday consumers spread the word about fair trade, and Camino and our products. We also participate a lot in fair trade campaigns led by Fair Trade Canada and Canadian Fair Trade Network. We participate in the Fair Trade Campus Week in September by donating products to campuses across Canada that want to promote fair trade to their students. There’s also May Fair Trade Month that involves retailers, distributors. And we open a booth at the Annual Meeting of CFTN in March.
The social economy of Quebec is one of the strongest and most recognized in the world. Compared to Europe, the fair trade movement of North America may not be as big. But within Canada, the fair trade movement of Quebec is quite significant: Quebec’s fair trade revenues make up 40% of that of the country; consumption of fair trade products is high; and there are many important fair trade campaigns centered around the efforts of Oxfam Quebec and the AQCE.
An important characteristic of Quebec’s social economy is the cooperation between organizations of different fields. Similarly, Magasin du Monde is also illustrative of this cooperation between various organizations in the international development, fair trade, cooperative and vocational training sectors, as well as a university. More specifically, RCJEQ (Réseau des carrefours jeunesse-emploi) provides financial support for the program in recognition of the close connection between the organization’s mission and the opportunity for students to gain real-life economic experience through Magasin du Monde.
CQCM, in turn, views the Magasin du Monde program as a way for students to familiarize themselves with the cooperative form and provides financial and in kind support by sending professional coaches.
Oxfam Quebec, an international development NGO (non-governmental organization), foresaw the success of the Magasin du Monde program in Quebec, and imported the Magasin du Monde program from Europe, while playing a key role in gathering various stakeholders together.
While Oxfam enjoys broad public support and influence in the international development arena in Europe, the public awareness of international development and of Oxfam itself is not as high in Quebec as in Europe.
In such a situation, Oxfam Quebec’s Magasin du Monde program is even more significant as it allows students to become familiar with international development issues and participate in an international organization.
What touched us the most while attending the Annual Meeting of Magasin du Monde was the passion of the teachers and students. The most touching moment in particular was when Mr. Francois Gervais, the supervising coach at Oka Secondary School, told us about one of the students who broke out of his shell and became a spokesperson for fair trade.
While he was telling us the story, we could feel his sincere affection for this student. We witnessed that as the teachers and students worked together to promote fair trade, they not only contributed to making the world a better place, but also enriched one another’s lives through their cooperation.
We hope that this article may serve as a useful reference to those in the cooperative school, and fair trade school movements in Korea. The next article will entail the events and behind-the-scenes of the Canadian Fair Trade Network (CFTN)’s Annual Meeting.