Laure Waridel, CM, CQ, social activist, author, environmentalist, lecturer and columnist (born 10 January 1973 in Chesalles-sur-Oron, Switzerland). Regarded as one of the 25 most influential political personalities in Québec, Laure Waridel holds an honorary doctorate from the Université du Québec à Rimouski, the Insigne du mérite from the Université de Montréal, and the rank of Knight of the Order of La Pléiade. She is a co-founder of Équiterre, a Québec organization that encourages individuals and governments to make choices that are fair, ecological and consistent with the principles of solidarity. The author of a number of books and essays on environmental issues, Waridel has contributed to many magazines, such as Voir and Reader’s Digest, in addition to hosting the radio show Acheter, c’est voter on Radio-Canada. She is currently strategic advisor for CIRODD, an interdisciplinary centre for research on operationalization of sustainable development. This centre is based at Polytechnique Montréal, and its membership includes over 80 researchers.
Childhood and Adolescence
Laure Waridel was born in 1973 in the canton of Vaud, in Switzerland. Before she was born, her grandfather and her father, Alexi Waridel, owned a farm where they raised livestock and grew fruits and vegetables for the family table in their orchard and garden. After Alexi married Heïdi Schneider, she worked with them in the fields. Over the years that followed, their herd grew to 30 head.
In 1975, when Laure was two years old, her parents bought a piece of land in Mont-Saint-Grégoire, in the Montérégie region of Québec, and began operating it as a dairy farm. Laure spent her childhood there with her brother and three sisters. From early adulthood, she was sensitive to issues affecting farmers and to the importance of the environment. As a teenager, she got her first job working for Jean Roussel, a neighbour who operated an organic farm called Cadet Roussel (see Organic Agriculture).
Education and Early Career
In 1990, Laure began her postsecondary studies in social science at Cégep Lionel-Groulx in Sainte-Thérèse, Québec. She worked as an intern in Burkina Faso, where she was fascinated by a group of women in Sahel province who had developed a business drying mangos in the sun and exporting them to Switzerland under a fair-trade arrangement. Waridel’s friend Éric St-Pierre, a professional photographer, suggested that they do a report from a developing country together, and they chose fair trade as their subject — more specifically, fair trade in coffee, which is consumed mainly in the North but grown almost exclusively in the South.
Waridel and St-Pierre then spent a summer at UCIRI, a coffee growers’ cooperative in the state of Oaxaca, in Mexico. They learned a great deal from this experience and came away with great admiration for the strength of the Indigenous peoples — the Zapotecs, Mixe, Mixtecs and Chontal — who worked every day tending coffee trees in the heart of the mountains of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.
What is Fair Trade?
In 2001, FINE, an informal association of the four main international fair-trade organizations, adopted a common definition of fair trade. This definition has since been widely accepted by various organizations and widely used in official documents. It reads as follows:
“Fair trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect, that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers — especially in the South. Fair trade organizations, backed by consumers, are engaged actively in supporting producers, awareness raising and in campaigning for changes in the rules and practice of conventional international trade.”
In 1992, Waridel participated in the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In 1993, inspired by the values of solidarity and respect for the environment, she and her friends Steven Guilbault, François Meloche, Élisabeth Hunter, Patrick Henn and Sidney Ribeaux founded a not-for-profit organization known as ASEED (Action for Solidarity, Equality, Environment and Development). The mission of this organization, which changed its name to Équiterre in 1998, is to “offer concrete solutions to accelerate the transition towards a society in which individuals, organizations and governments make ecological choices that are both healthy and equitable.”
Over the years since, many volunteers and key organizations have joined forces with Équiterre, including Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs) at McGill University, Concordia University and the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM); ENvironnement JEUnesse (ENJEU); and OXFAM Québec. Over the past 20 years, Équiterre has contributed greatly to raising awareness of fair-trade issues. Thanks to Équiterre, the number of retail outlets where fairly traded products are sold in Québec has grown considerably, from only two in 1996 to over 1,500 in 2005. In addition, consumers who have been sensitized to the importance of buying fairly traded coffee have exerted pressure on Québec’s big coffee-retail chains. As a result, after receiving hundreds of postcards for over three years from socially responsible consumers who supported fair trade, the Van Houtte chain decided to serve organic, fairly traded Mexican coffee in all their cafés.
Research and Publications
After earning her bachelor’s degree in sociology and international development studies at McGill University, Laure Waridel completed a master’s degree in environmental studies under the auspices of the Eco-Research Chair of Environmental Law and Policy at the University of Victoria.
Waridel published her first book, Une cause café : Pour le commerce equitable, in 1997 with Éditions Les Intouchables, followed by Coffee with Pleasure: Just Java and World Trade in 2001 with Black Rose Books. The latter was the source of the enhanced French edition Acheter, c’est voter, published in 2005. In this book, Waridel shows readers the path that coffee travels from the tree to their tables and tells them about the labour of the peasants who tend the coffee trees and about the multinational companies that own the brands of the coffee sold in Québec. She also tells the inspiring story of the UCIRI (union of Indigenous communities of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec), a Mexican coffee-growers’ cooperative that includes 2,720 families and has been supporting Indigenous people since 1982, despite harsh tactics and attempts at intimidation by wealthy local coffee traders.
As Waridel wrote in Acheter, c’est voter, “The globalization of social and environmental justice is not just a matter of words. To achieve it, we must move from thought to action in our daily lives, striving for it every day in what we tell politicians and businesses, in what we buy, and in our attitude toward the people around us.”
In 1998, Waridel published L’envers de l’assiette et quelques idées pour la remettre à l’endroit, an essay in the form of a food guide. A fully updated edition of this book came out in 2011. It offers a wealth of information to help readers make better food choices by applying the very simple principle of “3NF”: choose food that is Not packaged, comes from Not far away, is Natural (healthier, because it is produced by ecological farming practices), and Fairly produced and traded (to bring about change in the entire agri-food system, from the local level to the global, so that everyone gets enough to eat). After reading this book, consumers will have a whole new perception of what food is about and know how to make better choices among all the food products available to them (see Agriculture and Food).
Sabbatical and Doctoral Studies in Switzerland
In the early 2010s, Laure Waridel and her first husband, documentary filmmaker Hugo Latulippe, spent a sabbatical year in her native village in the Swiss Alps, between Lausanne and Fribourg, together with their son Colin and their daughter Alphée. Alphée was experiencing growth and developmental delays as a result of a condition known as Smith-Lemli-Opitz syndrome, and this family break gave her the chance to develop at her own pace in the clean, healthy air and splendid vistas of the Alps. Latulippe made a film documenting this experience — Alphée of the Stars, released in 2012.
During this stay in Switzerland, Waridel also began her doctoral studies at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. She received her doctorate, in anthropology and sociology of development, in 2016. She served as executive director of CIRODD, an interdisciplinary centre for research on operationalization of sustainable development at Polytechnique Montréal, from September 2015 to March 2017. She is now a consultant on sustainable development at this centre and is married to Bruce W. Johnston.