Ethical purchasing put off

Two local fair-trade advocates are slamming Non-Partisan Association park-board commissioners’ “ignorance” and “lack of interest” in ethical purchasing and fair trade.

Oxfam Canada employee Michael Zelmer drafted an ethical-purchasing policy that guides the city in local procurement of products—like coffee and tea—that are not sourced from facilities with oppressive conditions. (The policy also includes provisions for ethically sound apparel and bulk purchases.)

Zelmer spoke alongside Roxanne Cave at the October 30 board meeting. Cave is store manager at Ten Thousand Villages on Commercial Drive, and she is also cochair, along with Zelmer, of the Vancouver Fair Trade Coffee Network.

COPE Comm. Spencer Herbert had introduced a lengthy motion based on a recent reversal by Mayor Sam Sullivan and the NPA–dominated city council, where the recently axed EPP coordinator position was reinstated.

Herbert was asking the board to request that staff get back to them in time for the 2007 budget discussions on a review initiated by the park board in June. Herbert told the Straight that he wanted to bring the issue to light before the budget and advocate that council reinstate some funding now that it has suggested the park board “return to its original policy”.

After many amendments, the motion was defeated 4–3, along party lines, with Herbert, COPE Comm. Loretta Woodcock, and Comm. Allan De Genova (who’s suspended from the NPA caucus) in favour. NPA commissioners Ian Robertson, Marty Zlotnik, Korina Houghton, and board chair Heather Holden were against. Robertson said he wanted “more information” before making a decision.

“What this means is that the city council has reaffirmed its position on the EPP, but that some of the parks board is not so sure,” added Herbert.

“They seemed to betray a real lack of interest, and ignorance,” Cave said after the meeting. “They pay lip service but none of them [who voted against] seemed to give the impression they understood the policy.”

The EPP was originally passed by the COPE–dominated council and park board in February 2005. The supplier code was to require adherence to the eight core principles of the International Labour Organization and also require full disclosure of factory and production facilities of suppliers and subcontractors and independent facility inspections.

The current NPA–dominated council axed funding for the ethical- purchasing coordinator at the last budget round this year. On October 5, noting that the EPP had not led to much of a net loss over conventionally sourced products, the NPA councillors—backed by Vision Vancouver and COPE—voted to reinstate the coordinator position.

NPA park board vice chair Robertson—a first-term commissioner with a purported interest in sustainability—denied he was ignorant of the policy.

“Okay, so I don’t know it verbatim, but I know it because it came before us in May,” Robertson told the Straight. “I have read the policy.” When asked why he hadn’t consulted EPP author Zelmer for “more information”, Robertson replied, “It [last night] was the first time I’d ever met the guy.”

Zelmer said after the meeting that NPA commissioners have nothing to fear.

“It’s not like there is a desire to bankrupt the park board here and throw out a Christmas wish list that’s going to ruin the reputation of the fair-trade movement forever,” he said.

While she was on the park board, NPA Coun. Suzanne Anton voted in favour of the EPP. But she told the Straight that even though council is now unanimous, the board has “greater sensitivity around the issue”.

“Council doesn’t offer the same quantity of goods for resale the way the park board does,” she said. “It doesn’t affect us the way it does the park board.”

Vision Vancouver Coun. Raymond Louie, cochair of the Ethical Purchasing Task Force in 2004, said it is important for the park board to “take the next step” and develop a sustainable policy, not just an ethical policy.

“The major argument against the EPP at the park board was that the concession sales were down,” Louie told the Straight. “But they could never tag it with anything definitive as to why those sales were down—whether it was a downward trend in sales, the weather that year, or whether it was linked to the option to purchase or to sell ethically produced products.”

Robertson added that he expects park board staff to report back to the board on the EPP review in January 2007.