Spirituality and FT

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Some people say the Fair Trade movement was started by a Mennonite woman in the 1940s. This section updates how spirituality and Fair Trade continue to intersect.

My Faith Journey to Fair Trade


By Jackie DeCarlo


Photo: I’m celebrating Fair Trade with members of the Kuapa Kokoo association.  Photo credit: Lutheran World Relief

Through this blog, I have been able to invite several friends and colleagues to reflect on their spiritual paths and how those intersect with Fair Trade.  In the coming weeks we’ll be hearing from folks like Serena Sato, who works at SERRV and participates in a small Christian community in Madison, WI, and David Funkhouser of TransFair USA who is also an ordained Episcopalian minister.  It seems right for me to add my own personal experience.  I’m sharing a slightly modified part of a talk I gave to a Unitarian community when I worked for FTRN a few years back.  It tells part of my story and shares my motivation as a Fair Trader.

….There is an official definition of Fair Trade that speaks of it as a partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect. For me at the level of the soul, Fair Trade has the power to improve lives both spiritually and materially. “Buying Fair Trade is like giving a glass of clean water to a thirsty person,” a cocoa farmer told me once.  Her Fair Trade association- Kuapa Kokoo — had sold at that time enough cocoa at fair prices in Ghana to dig 96 water wells, open three schools, and provide her village’s first “places of convenience,” what you and I call “bathrooms.”  When we buy Fair Trade, we help make those kinds of developments possible.  And we get high quality, beautiful or tasty products in own hands, our own homes.

This is a great irony for me as a person:  Basically my job as a consumer educator is to convince people to shop.  First off, I hate shopping.  Second of all, I am a Quaker.  Not the folks on the oatmeal boxes, Quakers have a tradition of simplicity.  We are supposed to look for the God within everyone, not what shoes somebody has on her feet or what brand of coffee is in his cup.  We aren’t supposed to be concerned with things of this world.  Yet these kinds of distinctions for me have been such an important part of my spiritual journey.

In Quakerism we use “queries”, which is just an old fashioned word for “questions,” to investigate our motivations, to clarify our intentions, to promote reflection.  I like the queries related to “Personal Way of Life” from the Baltimore Yearly Meeting:

  • Do you live in accordance with your spiritual convictions?
  • Do you seek employment consistent with your beliefs and in service to society?
  • Are you watchful that your possessions do not rule you? “

The questions for me become: Am I promoting materialism? Am I suggesting that you need to buy more, just in a politically correct way? Am I contributing to the kind of over-consumption that led to the recent global economic recession?  Here’s how I answer those queries for myself.

About a decade ago I was traveling around Central America and Mexico.  I had gone through some tough times and was getting some space from the US trying to figure out what I believed in, what mattered.  I was “taking a year off.”  But in a complication I hadn’t expect, in these very materially poor countries I kept coming into contact with people who wanted to be part of popular American culture.  Everywhere I looked:  American magazines, fast food, Tommy Hilfiger, and television.

I have been in some remote places in the world, but wherever there is electricity, there is a television.  Consider the implication of this.  All over the world, way up high on mountain tops and down in flat rice fields, people are seeing not only our sometimes simple-minded sitcoms and reality-shows, but they are also watching our commercials.  They are learning our materialism, our over-consumption.   And, because billions of people live on less than $2 a day, many of them want our lifestyle.

This frightened me.  Because I became worried, not only that the planet can’t sustain our kind of consumption spreading, but because millions of people are buying into a system that disconnects them from their individuality, separates them from their mother earth, and seeks to direct their energy and their skills into purchasing power.  The cloud of despair was getting darker for me.

At just about the same time I encountered a Fair Trade coffee cooperative in the highlands of Chiapas Mexico.  I ended up spending four months volunteering for the cooperative.  This was in 2000, when coffee was about .80 cents a pound on the world market, below the cost of production and much below the then guaranteed Fair Trade price of $1.26. I learned about how the fair price for coffee worked to help people out of poverty.   Beyond price, I also learned about Fair Trade as self-sufficiency, dignity, and opportunity.

I also learned that picking coffee beans is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do.  I didn’t have a total conversion and end up living in Mexico.  I eventually left and was on a bus traveling for hours and hours headed back to my middle-class lifestyle.  Somewhere along the way I had an epiphany:  Fair Trade helps prevent impoverished bodies AND it can help prevent the impoverishment of souls.  That is why I dedicated my professional live to helping people of faith and others of goodwill create economic justice through conscious consumption and trading.

What Faithful Fair Trader Do You Admire?


by Jackie DeCarlo

In a few days I will be at a Washington, DC institution: Busboys and Poets in the historic U Street neighborhood.  I will be representing the Fair Trade White House campaign (http://fairtradewhitehouse.com) at an evening hosted by Global Exchange to celebrate Fair Trade month.  It is no surprise the event will be at Busboys.   In just a few years the combination bookstore, restaurant, and meeting space has come to be a center of DC peace and justice activism.  It is also no coincidence to me that its owner, Andy Shallal, is a man of faith who through his business, art, and volunteer service works to promote interfaith understanding. (http://www.svn.org/index.cfm?pageId=1036)

But in some ways Mr. Shallal is not unique.  Throughout the Fair Trade and other justice movements, people of faith make lasting and sometimes unrecognized contributions.  I know that in my own faith community, Friends (Quaker) Meeting of Washington, one behind-the-scenes volunteer has, for at least 8 years, made sure that Fair Trade coffee is available for sale and refreshment after weekly worship services.  I recently learned of a Catholic woman who makes sure that homemade and fresh snacks are always available to the volunteers of a local Fair Trade coalition that meets at regularly.  Her hatchback is never lacking a cooler filled with beverages and munchies. Of course, there is no forgetting Edna Ruth Byler, a Mennonite missionary who, I contend in my book, started the Fair Trade movement out of the trunk of her car.

In honor of Fair Trade month, I wonder readers know of faithful Fair Traders that need a little spotlight.  A boost of recognition or a pat on the back.  Please use this space to name some names, and let the Fair Trade world know how that person infuses spirit into the Fair Trade movement.

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.

Community Building Equal Exchange and People of Faith


by Peter Buck

This week’s guest blogger is Peter Buck of Equal Exchange.  EE is a worker-owned co-operative of fully committed fair traders, founded in 1986. They purchase, process and sell coffee, tea, chocolate, nuts, berries and bananas from forty small farmer co-operatives in twenty countries. Read on to learn how one of the pillars of success is Equal’s unique relationship to communities of faith.

Adrienne Fitch-Frankel pointed out in a post to this blog that, ” . . . communities of faith are among our society’s most important champions of social justice”.  This is certainly true in Equal Exchange’s experience with investors, partners and customers:

  • In the late 1980s, several congregations of Catholic women, including Dominican Sisters and Sisters of St Joseph, were among our early, critical investors.
  • In 1997, we recognized the importance of our faith relationships when we started a “Coffee Project” partnership with Lutheran World Relief, to jointly market coffee and other Fair Trade products to Lutheran congregations.
  • In thirteen years, the Interfaith Program has expanded to twelve such partnerships, including with Catholic Relief Services, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, Islamic Relief and other national, faith-based relief and development organizations.
  • Our relationships also include many allies like Heartbeats and the Inter-Religious Task Force on Central America in Cleveland and the Jubilee Justice Task Force of the United Church of Christ.

With the help of partners, allies and hundreds of local activists, the Interfaith Program sells over one million pounds of products from small farmer co-operatives to ten thousand communities of faith. This represents about a quarter of Equal Exchange’s sales.

As a Catholic, and a Worker/Owner and Interfaith Program Representative, I am constantly grateful for the opportunity to put my faith into action. I also find that action strengthens my faith.

I spend a lot of my time-visiting churches and schools and attending conferences-with people who are faithful, engaged and inspiring, and who are willing to put a lot of effort and creativity into “moving coffee (or chocolate, or tea) for the farmers”. Our Interfaith Partners put in long hours organizing marketing and education to promote Equal Exchange; parishioners bring coffee to their churches for fellowship after services, and organize regular sales; activists promote Fair Trade in the regional conferences of their denominations; clergy spread the word to other clergy; campus ministers and their inspired students bring us to their campuses.

Over the last ten years, Equal Exchange has led about 300 people of faith on delegations to visit farmer co-ops. I have led four delegations, to El Salvador and Mexico. Delegations can involve some physical discomfort, and emotional challenge in confronting the realities of poverty, injustice and struggle. It is inspiring to see a delegate facing these challenges-maybe for the first time-struggling to make sense of their experience and think about how to bring it back home. It is even more inspiring to participate when the delegates help each other process our experiences, in the light of our faith.

This community of farmers, activists, investors, Interfaith partners, customers and Equal Exchange worker/owners is the Interfaith Program.

What Holy Days Support your Fair Trade Work?


by Adrienne Fitch-Frankel

The Jewish high holidays referenced in Adrienne’s post last week have ended, and we finish up her contributions to this spirituality blog with a few more thoughts about the connection to economic justice of religious rituals and holy days. I’ll be curious to know if readers have particular religious rituals that evoke their devotion to justice…..

As I mentioned, one of my favorite Global Exchange resources is Passover Seder insert, which is written in the lyrical language of the Passover Haggadah and draws a parallel between the Biblical story of slavery in Egypt and the slavery faced by the children who are forced to grow our cocoa.

Here is an excerpt from the Passover Seder insert that draws those connections:

Assembled: We can walk in Moses’ footsteps. We can have the courage to ask the Pharaohs of today to let the children go.

Leader: We feel our lives are busy. That we do not have the time. But where would we be if Moses did not take the time to lead us to freedom?

Assembled: Where will those children be next year, if we do not take a little time to help these children find freedom?

Our faith traditions and sacred books explain, in a way that resonates especially deeply, why we should engage in social justice advocacy.  These texts and stories are rich with social justice messages that have passed the values of each of our faith communities from generation to generation for thousands of years.  Many members of faith communities grow up integrating these values into the core of our being, and they manifest themselves in daily acts as simple as looking for a Fair Trade label or as broad as developing a strategy to persuade an entire community or nation to go Fair Trade.  These values catalyze not only our own personal involvement, but means that millions like us share our social justice values and are likely to get involved if only they had the information and programs available to them.

The “how” is equally important.  Effective social justice organizing and outreach is structured through communicating to groups of people.  Congregations are some of the only large groups that have survived the fracturing of our society away from interdependent communities.  This means that communities of faith are among our society’s most important champions of social justice, not only because of values, but also because of the communities they have held together more successfully than other institutions.

Regardless of which faith tradition you come from, I would like to invite each and every one of you to participate in a tradition I just followed at the Jewish New Year.  Each of us is challenged to reflect on how we can be our best selves, and set some goals for the coming year on how we would like to change.  After you finish reading this article, please take just five minutes to set a new goal for something new you will commit to do to promote Fair Trade.  Make a plan, with the steps you will take to reach that goal and a timeline.”

Return to Adrienne’s posting from last week if you need specific action ideas, and please do use this blog to share the religious rituals or traditions that inspire you to act for economic justice.-Jackie

Why a Nice Jewish Girl Writes Holiday Carols


by Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, Global Exchanges Fair Trade Campaign Director

This week, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, I am honored that Adrienne Fitch-Frankel, a self-described “nice Jewish girl,” is sharing the faith-based reasons behind her Fair Trade work.  I got to know and respect Adrienne a bit as she created the Fair Trade Holiday project for Global Exchange.  Shes one of Fair Trade’s most energetic and creative activists so it is no surprise she ends this reflection (the first of two installments) with several inclusive action steps. ~ Jackie

The week this blog entry is being posted, Jewish people celebrate our holiest week of the year:  the high holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Therefore, the question of how my faith background intersects with my role as Global Exchanges Fair Trade Campaign Director is especially present with me.  For me, there is both a personal side to this question “How do our faith traditions move us personally?” and a pragmatic, campaign side to this question” How can our personal understanding of faith communities inform and improve our campaigns to promote Fair Trade?”

For me, on the most personal level, there is one single experience that fascinates me the most about the intersection of spirituality and social justice advocacy.  Have you ever had an “ah-hah” moment about the roots of your passion for social justice advocacy when you participate in a religious custom or service?  For me, as a secular Jew who participates in faith rituals mostly on religious holidays, the “ah-hah” moments happen every year when I attend services for the High Holidays, retell the Hanukkah story, or participate in the Passover Seder.

Of all the pieces I have written for Global Exchanges Fair Trade Campaign, one of my favorites is our Passover Seder insert, which is written in the lyrical language of the Passover Haggadah and draws a parallel between the Biblical story of slavery in Egypt and the slavery faced by the children who are forced to grow our cocoa.  At Passover, we remember the time that the Jewish people suffered as slaves in Egypt and escaped.  Global Exchanges Fair Trade campaign not only promotes Fair Trade cocoa, but also seeks to end child slavery in the cocoa fields, which is prohibited by the Fair Trade standards.  An estimated 12,000 children are slaves in the cocoa fields of West Africa.

Thinking about this piece, and reflecting on faith and Fair Trade advocacy, I have been struck by the themes of personal responsibility for social justice advocacy that seem to emerge from our faith traditions.  Parts of the Haggadah are written in the first person, as we say “when I was a slave in Egypt”, not “when they were slaves in Egypt.”  The Passover Seder serves as a mandate to all generations to put ourselves firmly in the shoes of another, imagine what it would be like, and work to end the injustice around us today.

Thinking of this characteristic of the Haggadah, one hears echoes of other wisdom that comes from our faith communities, like the rule of treating our neighbor as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  Or the famous poem of theologian and Lutheran pastor, Martin Niemaller, in which the voice in the poem laments that each time the Nazis came for another group, he or she did not speak up, and “Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”  Or the expression “there but for the grace of God go I.”

Fair Trade is about walking in another persons shoes.  We are all the farmer in Ethopia, the enslaved child in the cocoa fields of Ivory Coast, or that childs parents, sick with worry, the youth in a coffee-farming community hungering to go to school.

For all that we stand in the shoes of neighbors, we also stand in our own shoes.  And we are blessed with resources and a sense of fairness and a moral compass that our faith traditions give us.  The resources to change things are in our hands.  If only each one of us recommits ourselves to using them.

When we choose the coffee or cocoa or crafts we will buy, we must treat our neighbors as we would wish to be treated ourselves.  Not only that, but we must take action to transform the economy so that every one of our real neighbors in our community is also buying Fair Trade.  We are the ones with the resources and the ability to speak out.  We are all Moses.

I feel very blessed to bring a background of having been raised in a faith tradition to my work in Fair Trade, and not only because it is one of the original catalysts that inspired me to do this work.  I believe that having a deep appreciation for the importance and potential of the contributions of faith communities in achieving social justice enables me to better serve in my role of supporting coffee- and cocoa-growing communities lift themselves out of poverty.  For those of us who were raised and/or participate in a faith tradition, I think our background provides us a key component of both the “why?” and “how?” of compelling, effective, and dynamic social justice advocacy.  To me, even though I work at a secular institution, this means that faith-based initiatives are absolutely a priority in Fair Trade advocacy.

During this special week and beyond, I would like to invite you to help spread Fair Trade faith-based programs (available at www.globalexchange.org/cocoa) all over the US, by participating, organizing your congregations, and telling friends nationwide:

  • Reverse Trick-or-Treating:  Brings meaning and values to Halloween when kids give Fair Trade chocolate and information back to adults when they go trick-or-treating.  Deadline to register is October 1 for congregations/schools and October 13 for individual families at www.reversetrickortreating.org.
  • Fair Trade Holiday Caroling:  I love this program and I urge you to participate because (1) it revives a wonderful, warm tradition of giving a gift of merriment to our neighbors and friends during the holiday season, (2) it is a fabulous way to explain to your neighbors why you care about Fair Trade and why you hope they will, too, and (3) it gives the audience the opportunity to take immediate action, with a Fair Trade New Years Resolution and coupons. http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/cocoa/caroling.html
  • Take the Fair Trade holiday gift challenge and buy all your holiday gifts this year Fair Trade! http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/cocoa/resolution.html
  • Passover Seder insert:  Passover is celebrated both by Jews and by many Christian and Unitarian congregations.  As an extra bonus for chocolate-lovers, it integrates Fair Trade chocolate into your Seder plate!  http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/cocoa/GXPassoverSupp07color.pdf
  • Fair Trade curriculum:  9 ready-to-use lesson plans for both religious and secular schools at http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/fairtrade/cocoa/fairtradeintheclassroom.html

Finally, I would like to invite you to join me in the cocoa fields, so that together we can learn about the lives of producers and even ask them their opinions on the role of faith in Fair Trade.  I will be leading a delegation to Conacado in the Dominican Republic in May 26-June 6, 2010.  Visit www.globalexchange.org/tours for more information.

A Fair Trade Anniversary!


by Jackie DeCarlo

As I write anniversary celebrations for SERRV have begun.  Started by Church of the Brethren relief workers, this Fair Trade pioneer has been working to eradicate poverty for 60 years!  While now an independent organization, SERRV is a fine example of how faith-based values shaped the Fair Trade movement a generation ago, creating a legacy for both secular and religious participants.    I encourage you to visit the SERRV website to take a look at the timeline of its accomplishments, which were often fueled by volunteers. http://www.serrv.org/AboutUs/60thAnniversary.aspx

Also please consider sharing on this blog your own faith community’s commitment to Fair Trade.  Last week we learned of a congregational church utilizing Fair Trade coffee to support for U.S. troops in harm’s way.  Let us know how or why your faith-community  participates in the Fair Trade movement.

Holy Joe’s Cafe Ministry



Photo Courtesy of Holy Joe’s Ministry

by Jacqueline DeCarlo

Last week, Cheryl-a leader at SERRV (http://serrv.org) which began as a faith-based organization-mused in a blog comment about how “action which grows from spiritual understanding” is part of the Fair Trade movement today.  One effort that comes to mind is the “Holy Joe’s Café” ministry (http://holyjoescafe.blogspot.com/).

Thomas Jastermsky, of the First Congregational Church in Connecticut where the project started, reached out to me at Catholic Relief Services (http://crsfairtrade.org) knowing that CRS’s partner Equal Exchange (http://www.equalexchange.coop/interfaith-program) was involved in Holy Joe’s.

Tom is a big believer not only in God but also of supporting U.S. troops!  Since 2006 Holy’s Joe’s has helped 405 military chaplains provide a Coffee House ministry to troops in 120 locations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Chaplain Peter St. Martin says “Coffee has the effect of making the chaplain’s space a nice place to hang out.  It is in these moments that God and I do our best work, I believe: in casual conversation with no specific agenda and before the burden someone is carrying has erupted into real trouble.”

Organizations such as United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church, and the United Methodist Church are involved. Congregations donate coffee to the ministry and in turn chaplains create a coffee house atmosphere so troops can relax, talk with a chaplain, or just get a good cup of coffee.  If your community is interested in putting its faith into action, get more information at 888-970-7994 or contact Tom via email: HolyJoesCafe “at” aol.com

If you have more examples of the old adage “faith works wonders” please comment below.

Does Fair Trade Owe Faith Communities for Past & Current Inspiration?


man-working-stool-w-cross-crsBy Jacqueline DeCarlo

As lead blogger for the next few months, I want to offer a warm welcome to this “Spirituality and Fair Trade” blog.  Many thanks to FTRN for devoting space to the question of how faith-based and spiritual motivations are shaping today’s effort to help believers shop their values. With your participation, and a range of voices from the Fair Trade movement, I hope we’ll create a conversation about the role faith plays in this unique marketplace.

But before we explore what’s happening today, I launch this blog with a premise:  The Fair Trade movement has its roots in-and owes much of its formative inspiration to-people of faith.  One of my favorite stories is that of Edna Ruth Byler, a church volunteer in Pennsylvania, who worked with the Mennonite Central Committee (http://mcc.org). As part of their regular duties, Edna Ruth and her husband J.N. took a trip in 1946 to Puerto Rico, where Byler was introduced to impoverished seamstresses improving their skills in sewing classes. When she got home, Edna Ruth began to sell embroidery products to women in local sewing circles.  She returned profits to the Puerto Rican seamstresses to help them work their way out of poverty. Eventually Byler opened a gift shop in the basement of the home she and J.N. shared, and that led the way to the retail chain now known throughout the United States and Canada as Ten Thousand Villages.

As important as it was to help create a successful Fair Trade Organization, Edna Ruth made an even greater contribution by shaping the framework of what Fair Trade is and why.  Finding opportunities to connect disadvantaged and marginalized producers to consumers has become a central principle of Fair Trade.  Other resources on this website can introduce you to the rest of the principles.  My point is that one woman, spurred by her faith and supported by her denomination, helped start a successful movement for economic justice.  We people of faith, then, have an important legacy to uphold.  We can’t take all the credit for Fair Trade’s success, of course.  That wouldn’t be accurate nor would it be appropriate as many faith traditions caution humility!  But as the movement evolves, I think it is important to shine a light on the religious and spiritual motivations some Fair Traders draw from as they work to shape and improve the movement.

In the coming months I will invite several Fair Traders to share this space to relate how their faith shapes their work.  At this point, I’d be interested to learn of particular role models within your faith community. Feel free to comment and uplift an individual or community whose faith results in Fair Trade activism.  Or, chime in if you think my premise is bunk!  Let me know if you think that Fair Trade, being based in the marketplace, should be considered only as a secular endeavor.  Whatever your opinions, I’ll post once a week, but regularly respond to comments you offer.

Photo: A priest in Madagascar explains the features of hand-made furniture.  Photo credit: Jacqueline DeCarlo/CRS.

Forbes Magazine Publishes Feature on Ten Thousand Villages


In the September 7, 2009, issue of Forbes Magazine, FT pioneer Ten Thousand Villages and its store in Center City Philadelphia are reported on.  The article says that “Ten Thousand Villages has mastered the art of nurturing affluent customers as well as impoverished craftsmen.”  Check out the full story at:  http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2009/0907/creative-giving-ten-thousand-villages-grows-with-fair-trade.html