The Global Village Nanaimo Fair Trade store (GVN), which has moved from location to location for the past 12 years, is now open year-round, and permanently located in the Old City Quarter, at 427E Fitzwilliam Street, next door to Bocca Café.
The shop is unique in Nanaimo because it sells only fair trade goods, guaranteeing that in every case the producer or producer group has already been paid an agreed fair trade price. In addition to acquiring unique and delightful items, customers have the satisfaction that they are helping turn around unfair global purchasing practices.
GVN specializes in housewares and gift items, as well as fair trade commodities such as coffee, cocoa, chocolate and most recently Palestinian olive oil. Roberta Veenstra is spokesperson for the nonprofit society which operates the store with help from General Manager Sarah Schmidt and many volunteer salespeople.
Ms. Veenstra points out that the purpose of the store is very simple: to enable some of the poorest people in the world to earn the cash they deserve and need in order to participate in today’s monetary economy. “We are not using fair trade as a cash cow, or to raise funds for projects,” she says. “We engage in fair trade for its own sake, and after covering costs such as shipping and store overhead, we use the money we make to buy more goods. The cycle allows producer groups to plan for their futures, knowing that we’ll continue placing orders with them.”
GVN strives to provide products balanced between functionality and art. Achieving this means purchasing from about 30 co-operatives, sheltered workshops and other groups around the world. Not all groups are certified to display the Fair Trade logo. Many groups do not have the time, the money or the expertise to go through the certification process. In such cases, GVN puts its reputation behind the products, having checked to make sure that fair trade principles (fair price, democratic decision-making and environmental sustainability) have been applied.
GVN is a not-for-profit social enterprise, not a charity, and its mission is to do fair trade as a business with a purely social mission. A common catch-phrase today is “triple bottom line”, meaning that social and environmental values are accounted for as well as economic. Economics tend to dominate most businesses, even if they include social and environmental goals. With the help of customer and volunteer support, GVN sets a strong example of an organization putting people and the planet before profit.
The volunteer salespeople are key to the strong social and environmental values in GVN’s “bottom line”. They make it possible for GVN to pay the agreed prices and to keep prices to customers reasonable. “We believe in fair trade for our customers, too,” says Veenstra, “which is why we use a pricing formula that recovers only costs of doing business with a reasonable markup to cover future purchasing.”
Having begun year-round operations in July 2009, the store is still in its “start-up” phase and the society will not know until the summer whether the gamble is successful.
“Over the years,” says Veenstra, “we’ve learned that storekeeping is an art that depends on finding and presenting goods that engage and satisfy a broad range of customers. We want our customers to know that as well as helping craftspeople to earn with dignity, we care about providing uniqueness and quality at affordable prices.”
Marjorie credits her lifelong interest in bringing the money economy to serve the real wealth economy of natural resources and human labour to her studies in Social Economics at Glasgow University in the late fifties. In the forty years she has lived in Nanaimo, she has been active in the peace, environment and women’s movements and served on the Nanaimo school board, the Malaspina College Council, The Vancouver/Richmond Health Board and the Central Vancouver Island Health Board. She has been a parent, a Girl Guide leader, and a community activist. She currently chairs four organisations: Global Village Nanaimo, The Mid Island Family Caregivers Network Society, Nanaimo Foodshare and the Heritage Foodservice Co-operative.