On the ground in Sri Lanka, the positive impacts of the partnership between Cha’s Organics and its producers are evident in myriad ways. Premiums paid through organic and Fairtrade practices have helped build a preschool, allowed for the purchase of tools and training, and assisted in financing local projects that have been life-changing for some.
That’s why embracing a Fairtrade, ethical business model makes so much sense, says Marise May, co-founder, along with Chanaka Kurera, of the Montreal-based company. She knew that Canadians would fall in love with the organic food and culture of Sri Lanka. But it was equally important that their partners in the South Asian island country – typically small-scale, family-owned organic farms – were also benefiting. “It was always our top priority to value the farmers and the producers,” she says.
Established 13 years ago, Cha’s Organics brings to the market spices, curries, tropical fruit, specialty items such as a turmeric latté mix and “the best coconut milk in the world,” says Matthew (Matty) Caspersz, director of sales, Cha’s Organics.
While he believes that the “number one thing that draws our consumer base is our purity, quality and taste of our products,” he also recognizes that Canadians are not only looking for healthy and delicious options, they are making ethical choices too.
“Millennials and younger people are more apt to go online and investigate the stories behind brands,” he says. That’s how they can discover that in purchasing products from Cha’s Organics, they are supporting trade that empowers people and improves lives.
Cha’s Organics employs a women’s artisanal group to craft packaging, upcycling paper from bulk tea bags that would normally end up in the garbage stream. Ms. May explains that the women are among the most marginalized and often subject to working for low pay in harsh and even dangerous conditions. Cha’s Organics provides an alternative, she says. “We’ve seen the impact on these women, and it’s incredible.”
Cha’s Organics contributed to the establishment of an “elephant-friendly bus,” an initiative to address potentially hazardous confrontations between the massive wild animals and women and children walking to and from rural schools. The company also donates 1 per cent of sales from coconut milk products to help protect elephants, working with the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society.
Ms. May says that the human-elephant conflict has grown in Sri Lanka, as human activities encroach on wildlife reserves and natural habitat. The Canadian company was compelled to support projects addressing the issues aimed at enabling both farmers and wild animals to thrive.
As Mr. Caspersz points out, elephants are “entwined in the spirituality and culture of the island.” Recognizing this and respecting it is a way of honouring the culture and heritage of Sri Lanka.
Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.