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Wake up to fair trade

August 21, 2013
By: 
Stephanie Harrington
Sasha Caldera

Sasha Caldera wants you to think about your morning coffee.

Where did the beans, for example, come from? How much was the farmer who grew them paid?

Caldera, who graduated last year with a Master of Arts in Intercultural and International Communication, admits that fair trade is a daunting issue for many people. But he has seen the impact that a choice as small as buying a cup of coffee has on farmers in developing countries.

“I tell people they can make a huge difference by changing the way they buy things. People would be shocked if they found out a lot of the products they purchase on a daily basis haven’t given the producer or even the whole community what they deserved for it,” he says.

“Fair trade is the first step to unlocking sustainable development within global markets, emphasizing new relationships between consumers and producers.”

In January, Caldera returned from a five-month professional fellowship in Uganda with Engineers Without Borders Canada, where he lived and worked with a Ugandan fair trade coffee co-operative. Caldera says the co-operative gave Ugandan farmers a reliable income, competitive prices for their crop, and access to credit during lulls between harvests. There was also extra money to invest in improving farming practices and schools, making it a win-win for the local community.

“Producers in this co-operative had moved beyond living from hand-to-mouth and local entrepreneurs are now driving Africa’s growth. It was really exciting to see,” Caldera says.

The past five years have been busy for the ambitious Caldera, who discovered his calling when he volunteered as an undergraduate student with Engineers Without Borders Canada. In 2009, he co-founded advocacy group Fair Trade Vancouver. Last year, after three years of negotiations, he helped make Simon Fraser University the country’s second fair trade designated campus. Caldera now sits on the board of directors of the non-profit Canadian Fair Trade Network, which promotes sustainable consumption and production.

For his master’s project, Caldera travelled to India where he met cotton producers in Gujarat province and Ahmedabad women who made crafts at fair trade co-operatives.

“That was the first time I got to meet the people behind these items. It was a pretty humbling experience,” he says. “In Ahmedabad, for example, it was the first time women were the primary earners in their households. It shifted the power dynamic at home so there was less domestic abuse. The women were also able to save money to finance their daughters’ education.”

Caldera submitted his master’s research project while in Brazil for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20. At a World Trade Organization event, he argued that the fight against global poverty should focus on changing trade rules that penalize developing countries.

School of Communication and Culture Prof. Michael Real, who was in India with Caldera and the rest of his classmates for a month-long overseas residency, says Caldera works hard to apply what he learned during the master’s to his career.

“He’s a very well-rounded, able person. Obviously, from an early age, Sasha has been quite dedicated to fair trade, which means that he offers a prospect of a long and fruitful career,” Real says.

Caldera, in turn, says Royal Roads gave him the flexibility to research what was important to him.

“I wanted a degree that was internationally focused and allowed me to continue the work I’m doing. It was extremely rewarding for me,” he says.

In the long run, Caldera is committed to convincing more Canadians to buy and sell ethically-sourced goods. Whereas three out of four coffees served in the UK are fair trade certified, Caldera says only one to two per cent of the coffee market in Canada is fair trade. He encourages Canadians to read about global poverty and think twice about buying cheaply manufactured goods.

“Try to make a commitment to buy one or two fair trade products – sugar, bananas, coffee, tea or chocolate – for a year,” Caldera says. “Fair trade is going to take off like recycling did the in the ’90s. Right now we’re on step one and the ladder has 50 steps. We’ll get there eventually.”