October 5, 2012

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

Brewing up good reasons to support fair trade

David SilerAs I type this column, I am enjoying a piece of delicious fair-trade chocolate.

This morning, my wife, Cathy, and I enjoyed our daily ritual that is shared by a large majority of people all over the world—a cup of hot coffee. This particular cup—also a fair-trade product—was brewed from beans grown by small coffee farmers in Sumatra, Indonesia.

How many of you know where your coffee or cocoa beans were grown and by whom? Do you know if the coffee and cocoa farmers were paid a fair price for their beans or if the pickers of the beans were treated fairly?

October is Fair Trade Month, a great opportunity to raise awareness about how some of our buying decisions have a direct impact on our brothers and sisters all over the world. So just what does fair trade mean?

I have cited the two most common products that are often associated with this term—coffee and chocolate. Did you know that following oil, coffee is the most traded commodity in the world? In addition to coffee and chocolate, arts, crafts and clothing have become widely traded fair-trade products.

Fair trade is a term which indicates that the owners of a farm or company and their employees are paid a fair price for their products, that they follow fair labor practices, and pay careful attention to the impact of their production on the environment.

Typically, fair-trade products come from small family farms or cooperatives that normally cannot compete on price with the huge corporate giants that dominate the markets of the world.

Most of us, when making any type of purchase, know nothing about what it took to bring that product to market.

I suggest that as Catholics seeking to live out the social mission of Jesus that it is important to know something about how the money that we spend impacts others. We all impact the economy by the decisions that we make, and the economy impacts every one of us.

Every once in a while, we read in the news about some gross violation of labor practices. For instance, a few years ago, we heard about a certain shoe manufacturer that was using children in another country in the production of their shoes.

The intense desire to keep products sold in the United States priced as low as possible and, oftentimes, just plain greed cause companies to not only send manufacturing to other countries that pay much lower wages than in the U.S., but also often turn a blind eye to just how deplorable the working conditions may be and how the workers are paid and treated.

Seeking out and buying products that are fair-trade certified from organizations that do their due-diligence to ensure fair labor practices and proper attention to environmental impact is one important way that we can help ensure the quality of life for struggling farmers and artisans around the world.

To learn more about fair trade and how you can hold a fair trade sale at your parish, visit www.crsfairtrade.org.

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at dsiler@archindy.org.)

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