Fair trade could be next step for city

Alderman working on environmental initiatives for city

Jan. 4, 2007

Milwaukee could become one of America's first "fair-trade cities" if a resolution now being developed by Alderman Tony Zielinski receives support from the Common Council and Mayor Tom Barrett.

At the moment, Zielinski said there are about 300 fair trade cities in Europe, but Media, Pa., is the only such city in the U.S. He said San Francisco, Seattle, Boston and Chicago are currently considering becoming fair trade cities.

Fair trade is intended to help farmers and other workers in developing countries lift themselves out of poverty and engage in environmentally sustainable practices, according to the TransFair USA, a nonprofit organization that certifies fair-traded products.

Fostering economic justice

Fair trade involves several key principles, according to TransFair USA, including fair price, so democratically organized farmer groups receive a guaranteed minimum price and an additional premium for products that are certified organic. Fair-trade principles also extend to fair labor conditions, direct trade with importers, and investments of fair-trade dollars in social and business development projects, such as scholarship programs.

TransFair USA currently certifies coffee, tea, herbs, cocoa, chocolate, fresh fruit, sugar, rice and vanilla. Fair-trade items also may include crafts, clothing, textiles, ceramics and other merchandise.

"Basically, I think a lot of people in Bay View feel strongly about the environment and fair trade," Zielinski said. "People in Bay View believe in promoting fair working conditions in apparel and other labor-intensive industries.

"I'm also working on a resolution to adopt sweatshop-free purchases by city, and using our purchasing power as a lever for economic justice."

In Bay View, the Future Green, 2352 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., carries fair-trade items. Several coffee shops in Milwaukee, including Sven's European Cafe, 2699 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., sell fair-trade coffee.

Zielinski said several criteria are required to become an official fair-trade city. First, the Common Council must pass a resolution to use fair trade goods at events. Next, a certain percentage of retailers and institutions must sell and use fair-trade products. A standing committee must be established that would be responsible for ongoing promotion of fair trade and "there must exist widespread support and publicity around fair trade," the alderman said.

"Fair trade is another means of thinking globally and acting locally," Zielinski said.

Environmental initiatives

The fair trade resolution is among several "green" initiatives Zielinski has been working on during the past several months, he said.

The alderman said he also is planning to introduce an ordinance that would set parameters for any "sister city" relationship Milwaukee may have in the future that would require the sister city to abide by anti-sweatshop policies.

"We don't want these sister cities to result in our market being flooded with more lower-priced goods being produced by these sweatshops and taking advantage of workers in other countries and undermining family supporting jobs in this country," Zielinski said.

As another example, the Common Council recently adopted Zielinski's resolution to provide authorization and funding for Milwaukee to join the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, aimed at supporting local governments as they work toward sustainable development and lowering pollution levels to address global warming.

Zielinski said the issue of global warming was brought into sharp focus in the past week with the news that a giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has broken loose from the Canadian Arctic.

"I think we have to take appropriate steps to protect our environment," Zielinski said, while continuing to work on local issues. "We've got to keep working to help improve businesses on South Kinnickinnic Avenue and Bay View in general and aggressively attack the crime problem, but at the same time we can't neglect the environment and social justice."

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