Fair trade group promotes conscientious Christmas shopping
Cacao farmers in Peru take part in fair trade. Credit: Olaf Hammelburg for Equal Exchange.
Cacao farmers in Peru take part in fair trade. Credit: Olaf Hammelburg for Equal Exchange.
By Hillary Senour
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.- As the season of Advent draws closer, Catholic Relief Services and a fair trade group are encouraging consumers to be mindful of where they buy their Christmas gifts.

“We ought to be aware of how we’re connected,” said Rodney North of Equal Exchange, a fair trade group based in Massachusetts.

Since 2007, Catholic Relief Services has worked with Equal Exchange to involve more U.S. Catholics in their work of improving the lives of those in developing nations. Now, thanks to a revamped online store and Christmas bazaar program, it’s easier than ever to support rural communities.

“The relationship began because of this coincidence in values,” North told CNA in a recent interview.

Catholic Relief Services works to help improve the well-being of those in need, usually on the ground level of charities, while Equal Exchange works as a “friendly buyer” for small farmers and farming co-ops throughout the world. Even if the market forces prices down, Equal Exchange guarantees a fair wage for their products.

“If nothing else, this partnership is educating people about their connections with others,” North explained. “Every day through the banana you buy, through the coffee you drink, you’re connected to these people and you should think about that.”

While most people are familiar with the constant fluctuation of marketplace prices, he said, what many people may not realize is the devastating impact these changes can have on producers in developing nations.

“That’s one reason why they have low prices year after year after year so they can never escape their poverty, they can never scratch enough together to climb out of that hole,” North said.

“Now that we know this sort of grim reality of how the marketplace works, we have choices; we’re encouraging you to make this other choice to seek out fair-trade products where people are trying to do right by the small farmers, to give them a break,” he added.

After buying products at a fair price, Equal Exchange then sells them online and gives churches and other community organizations the opportunity to sell them as well, particularly at annual fairs preceding Christmastime.

More than 5,000 congregations and community organizations have purchased Equal Exchange products to sell at their annual Christmas fairs. While this might sound like a large number, North pointed out that this leaves more than 300,000 congregations and place of worship that do not offer fair trade products.

When consumers purchase products through this particular option, they are both generating funds for their own congregation and supporting Catholic Relief Service’s overseas projects by funding a small-farmers’ sustainability program.

“When farmers come together, they get a little more power,” North explained.

By joining with other local producers, these communities can pool their money to build warehouses, trucks for shipping and even hire a person to conduct quality control, thus improving their products – and quality of life – even more.

Coffee, chocolate, handmade crafts and artisan gift wrap are just some of the items available, all of which comes from people who are receiving fair wages for their work.

North said that those interested in learning more about selling fair trade products at their Christmas fairs can visit: http://www.equalexchange.coop/programs/holiday-bazaar. Simply by requesting more information, people can be entered to win $500 in fair trade merchandise to sell at their fair.

Tags: Developing Countries, Fair trade

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