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Faith in Founding Fair Trade Los Angeles

by Jackie DeCarlo

dan-miller-ftlaPhoto:  FTLA recently held a community discussion at St. Cross Episcopal in Hermosa Beach, CA on how to start a Fair Trade business.  Courtesy of Daniel Wilson, FTLA.

“Three Catholics, a Jew, and an Atheist walk into a bar…” no, it is not the start of a joke, but a slightly embellished description of how the grassroots group Fair Trade Los Angeles (http://fairtradela.org/) got started, according to its coordinator, Joan Harper.  In addition to her professional role at the Office of Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles (http://www.archdiocese.la/ministry/justice/peace/index.php),

Joan is a volunteer with the Fair Trade LA group (FTLA), helping it build awareness of and participation in the Fair Trade movement in a vast urban area.  Joan was one of those Catholics who in 2005 formed FTLA to work with diverse groups to educate Angelinos about fair trade and to increase purchase of fair trade products and awareness of global poverty and trade issues.

Joan and her family recently hosted me for a week as I made a series of talks and presentations on behalf of Catholic Relief Services (http://crsfairtrade.org) to mark Fair Trade month.   Thanks to Joan’s efforts, I met Fair Traders of many faiths-Lutherans, Episcopalians and Presbyterians pop to mind-who affirmed for me how incredibly important people of faith are to building and sustaining a grassroots movement for Fair Trade in the United States.

As Fair Trade is grows and flourishes in mostly secular arenas, people of faith are a grounding force. There are Fair Trade businesses and Fair Trade Towns.  Fair Trade is a topic of academic debate and media attention.  Throughout concerns and controversies, marketing tactics and branding wars, a stabilizing force in the movement is the presence of people of faith focused on respect for God’s creation, first and foremost.

I love to tell the story of Fair Trade being started by a Mennonite missionary.  I rejoiced recently when Islamic Relief USA launched a Fair Trade project with Equal Exchange.  http://www.equalexchange.coop/islamicrelief)  I am heartened that the volunteers from FTLA join together as a people of many faiths, and none at all, to build community commitments to economic justice.   All these efforts at the grassroots foster my hope that even in the secular marketplace, Fair Trade will be shaped by the ethos and the activities of people who seek to serve a purpose greater than themselves.


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