The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is a Christian organization dedicated to Social causes – or as they put it “working for peace and justice”. In Canada in 1972, they started the Ten Thousand Villages chain of stores selling “Fair Trade” goods. Fair Trade means that the people who make the goods in the stores, generally in third world countries, get paid fairly and sustainably. (More on this below). But unfortunately, in the last few years, MCC have found it financially impossible to continue their stores. In 2018 they closed nine stores and on Tuesday January 21, they announced the closure of the remaining 10 company stores while leaving the twelve “board” stores to make their own decision. “Board” stores are operated as not-for-profits independent of MCC and Cobourg’s store on King St. West is one of them and has decided to stay open.
Eight “board” stores across Canada will stay open – the only other Ontario store to stay open is in Port Colborne. The US stores are not affected by this current shutdown and MCC Canada has other activities so is not disappearing. But on May 29, 2020 the MCC operation in New Hamburg is closing as well as 10 MCC stores across the country. Four “board” stores will also be closing during the year. On May 29 the Canadian web site will shut down as well.
According to a Press release issued by Derrick Cunningham, Cobourg’s Store Manager and Barb Henderson, Chair, Board of Directors, the store “has been a successful retail operation providing quality fair trade items including jewelry, coffee and rugs.” I would describe it as a Gift store although you might want some of its items for yourself!
Part of the reason that the store can remain open is that it’s staffed by one part-time manager plus volunteers but Board Chair Barb Henderson said:
“It’s our commitment to fair trade – our commitment to the artisans and their families and communities – that was the deciding factor for us,” said Henderson. “It’s why we opened this store ten years ago and it is why we are working to keep it open now.”
We all remember the old story about how to help under privileged people – “don’t give them food, teach them to fish”. Well there’s more to it than that: you need to be financed – that is, get loans to keep you going while your product ships and gets sold. The answer used by Ten Thousand Villages is Micro-Financing:
Simply put, micro-financing is providing interest-free loans (or advance payments) to the groups that we work with. For us, this means we pay 50% of our invoice up front and the remainder of the invoice once we receive confirmation that the product has shipped. For maker groups, this means that they have access to the finances needed to do their work. In many countries around the world, financing and loans are not accessible, and if they are available, the interest rates are prohibitively high and often a contributing factor to poverty. The micro-financing program ensures the groups we work with don’t need to worry about where the monetary support will come from to make their products.
I was curious how the organization operates and will continue to operate so I asked Derrick some questions and he has responded:
Q1. Will you still get supplies through the same sources or will you have to make other arrangements? If MCC Wholesaling is shutting down, will you have to deal directly with the artisans?
A1. The remaining stores will be working together to source fair trade product from North American fair trade wholesale vendors. We will explore the possibility of becoming an importer ourselves, but that is a challenging task with a learning curve. Because most fair trade is done through more environmentally friendly container shipping, our spring and summer collections are just starting to arrive now (ordered last summer)…so we have a good supply of new product right into summer and then will source the fall and Christmas products ourselves.
Q2. Do you have any sponsors or any source of income other than store sales?
A2. In a word, no. We have been a fully self-sustaining not-for-profit retail business. However numerous community partnerships with churches, schools, post-secondary institutions out of town, the Northumberland Y, etc… have all provided amazing opportunities for us to work with local and regional organizations to promote fair trade. Local organizations allow us to run sales through them and they take a commission from the sales for their own fundraising purposes. This past Christmas season, we helped almost two dozen organizations raise a total of $8000 for their own internal fundraising purposes, funding everything from post-secondary awards and scholarships to mission work to school trips. That’s the beauty of the Villages’ business model … we help artisans in developing countries by giving them the dignity of fairly paid work, and we can help local organizations with their own fundraising projects.
It seems that the organization has been doing well in Cobourg and let’s hope that continues.
- Press Release from Ten Thousand Villages Cobourg
- Ten Thousand Villages Canada (includes link to US version)
- Announcement from Ten Thousand Villages Canada
- MCC Canada
- Canadian Fair Trade Network
Note: The photo is of a Colombian Coffee farmer – it was taken from the Ten Thousand Villages Canada Facebook page.