While Canada’s largest city is inching closer to becoming a Fair Trade Town, the biggest and oldest fair trade retailer in the country recently announced a major restructuring and mass layoff.
In mid-March, Ten Thousand Villages, with headquarters in New Hamburg, Ontario, announced it will close almost 25 percent of its retail locations and slash 20 national jobs.
Ironically, the announcement comes as 15 municipalities, including Vancouver, have already made the political promise to promote fair trade, while more than 20 other cities, including Toronto, are nurturing Fair Trade Town campaigns.
Ten Thousand Villages says it faces “domestic retail challenges” and will align closer with its sister organization in America to “stabilize its organization” in Canada.
Building relationships with fair trade shoppers
The organization also relaunched its online store with the help of the hip agency Barefoot Creative, trying to boost its Internet sales while still encouraging Canadians to visit brick-and-mortar outlets where staff and volunteers build strong relationships with fair trade shoppers. Villages says 34 retail outlets will remain open and 10 will be shuttered.
For more than six decades, Ten Thousand Villages has provided fair income to artisans and producers in countries such as India, Peru, Cambodia and Uganda.
“We are fully committed to our mission of improving the lives of some of the world’s most disadvantaged people. That remains our primary objective,” says Ryan Jacobs, general manager of the organization.
Ten Thousand Villages is a nonprofit program of the Mennonite Central Committee, a relief and development agency. The organization depends on volunteers who help staff stores and sell products at festivals and fairs. Edna Ruth Byler, an aid worker with Mennonite Central, launched the project in 1946 after she visited volunteers in Puerto Rico who were teaching sewing classes to help improve the lives of marginalized women. Ms. Byler brought home some of the women’s products to sell to friends and neighbours.