News / Calgary

Calgary Heroes: Engineer champions fairness through trade

Erin Bird has been at the helm of pushing local businesses and groups to offer more fair trade options

Erin Bird leads Fair Trade Calgary, which hopes to give Calgarians the option of making ethical purchases every day.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Erin Bird leads Fair Trade Calgary, which hopes to give Calgarians the option of making ethical purchases every day.

A simple shopping trip isn’t typically a memorable event, but when Erin Bird made her way through the Core Shopping Centre last year, the moments crystallized in her mind like photographs.

“I was reading the labels trying to see where my clothes were made,” she said. “Everywhere, it was the same: made in Bangladesh, made in China, made in Vietnam. This was after the workplace factory collapse in Bangladesh and it really hit home for me.”

Bird left the mall empty-handed that day, but with a new determination.

“I was just so distraught that I couldn’t find anything that I knew was made by people who were being treated fairly,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a part of the problem. I knew I wanted to help people in other parts of the world, but how can I do that at the local level?”

Fair trade was already a passion of hers, and for the past five years Bird has been leading Fair Trade Calgary, but the experience re-sparked her drive for change.

Fair Trade Calgary is a group within Engineers Without Borders, which pushes to make certified fair trade products more accessible at stores and restaurants across the city.

By day, Bird works as an engineer for the city, but her free time is dedicated to getting Calgary Fair Trade Town status by the end of the year. There are currently 22 Fair Trade Towns in Canada, including Edmonton, Canmore and Olds in Alberta.

“We decided that, with Canada turning 150 next year, what better way to commemorate that in Calgary?” said Bird. “It’s the perfect time to launch this campaign to show that Calgary can be a leader in sustainable action and make the world a better place.”

To achieve Fair Trade Town status, Calgary needs 133 grocery and retailer locations as well as 67 restaurants that offer two categories of fair trade products.

Erin Bird has always loved chocolate, but when she began reading about forced child labour in the chocolate industry, she switched to fair trade options like Divine and Camino.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Erin Bird has always loved chocolate, but when she began reading about forced child labour in the chocolate industry, she switched to fair trade options like Divine and Camino.

Additionally, Fair Trade Calgary needs to find 59 community groups that show their support for the movement, and the City of Calgary must pass a resolution to support the designation and offer fair trade coffee, tea and sugar during administrative meetings.

It’s been a long road, and they currently have no restaurants with two fair trade options, but they have successfully found more than 200 grocery and retail locations, as well as a number of community supporters.

And, on the ground, Bird and her fellow volunteers are giving businesses new options and helping them make connections to fair trade suppliers through events and meetings.

“It is more expensive to offer a fair trade choice, so it does take a lot of work from us all,” said Bird.

“But there are people working to make things better, and there are companies that are working to implement corporate social responsibility to their business. So those kinds of things make me think to myself: there is a way forward from this, it’s just going to take time. All we can do is take small steps forward and hopefully, as we do, we can make the world a better place.”

For more information, go to fairtradecalgary.com.

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