Faith Groups Fight for Justice through "Fair-Trade"

( [email protected] ) Mar 08, 2004 09:05 AM EST

Faith-based organizations across the nation are increasingly growing their interest in bringing social justice to developing countries by participating in “fair-trade” movement with the world being in concern of globalized trade.

Through “fair-trade,” products such as coffee, tea, coca, bananas, carved wooden trinkets and woven baskets, produced by mostly small farmers in developing countries, are sold at a comparably high price so that they could be helped from poverty.

Last year, 5,187 congregations nationwide bought 212 tons of coffee, tea and cocoa from Equal Exchange, a Massachusetts-based organization that distributes fair-trade products, compared with the 2,895 congregations that purchased 124 tons in 2002.

Rose Benz Ericson, a fair-trade activist who lives in Rochester, N.Y., has noticed the increased interest of faith groups in recent years, especially since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As "global forces move us to a more dangerous place, we can feel very helpless," Ericson said. "Fair trade is an antidote because we can each, individually and easily, contribute to global understanding [and support] of other cultures."

According to Washington Post, the fair-trade movement began in the 1940s as a global coalition of laborers, purchasers, relief agencies and human rights group, in efforts to raise the standard of living for agricultural workers and artisans in developing countries by ensuring that they get fair prices for their product.

As the growers and artisans are allowed to sell their products at a higher price through “fair-trade” than through the world’s market, in exchange, they are required to follow certain labor and environmental standards set by a “fair-trade” oversight group which includes practicing gender equity, democratic decision-making for the workers, and so on.

For example, fair-trade coffee is sold at the price of $1.26 per pound whereas the typical coffee is sold at the comparably low price of 65 cents perpound.

"I'm trying to make every aspect of my life fit into my faith commitment," said Jonathan Ottke, 35, a Quaker from Washington, who works as a systems analyst. "So, for example, I've stopped buying non-fair-trade coffee whenever possible. . . . If me buying coffee is helping to impoverish farmers in Central America, then I am not living according to my faith."

Erbin Crowell, interfaith program director at Equal Exchange, informed that the company began reaching out to faith groups in 1996 in a pilot project with Baltimore-based Lutheran World Relief, the development and aid arm of several Lutheran denominations.

The partnership has "resonated enormously with Lutheran churches . . . because it's linked directly to our understanding of how our economic choices reflect our faith," said Sarah Ford, the Lutheran World Relief official in charge of the program.

Today, there are nine different denominations partnering with Equal Exchange and by the end of March, the United Church of Christ will join the partnership, expanding to ten. Once a denomination joins, it educates their congregations and then set up accounts with Equal Exchange.