Friday, August 14, 2009

Something encouraging

Recently, I came across an article from The Frederick News-Post, a newspaper based in Frederick County, MD, that told an encouraging story. I thought you would appreciate it, too.

To sum up the piece: youth group members from two local Lutheran churches have teamed up to have "Christmas in July" Fair Trade Sale at their church. The sale serves many purposes: first and foremost, it raises money for the church youth group; perhaps more importantly, it's a way for children to learn about the people and places where the goods come from, and in turn, build educational bridges with members of their communities who don't necessarily know about Fair Trade or attend one of these two churches.

While I was attending Eastern University, a group of student activists I was involved with, SPEAK, were working hard to get Fair Trade coffee into our dining commons. So often, it felt as though we would be making so much progress and then hit a brick wall. Other times, the consistent meetings with the campus dining managers seemed unproductive. It was easy to look around and feel like progress was not being made; sometimes we felt very alone in our efforts, like we were wasting our time. Eventually, though, we did it. Now, with the exception of one popular-brand machine, our Dining Commons, cafes and at most of our on-campus conference, one can find hotpots full of Lamont Fairly Traded, Shade Grown, Organic Coffee.

As we prepare for the next phase of the Fair Trade Boston Campaign in the coming weeks, let's not forget that people all over the world are laboring to love our neighbors and finding creative ways to address the concern of global poverty. Surely, there will be days when the work is difficult and the marks of progress are difficult to see. The past success of groups like SPEAK, or more recently, the work of our brothers and sisters in Frederick County reminds me that we are all members of one body, working toward a common goal. Let's continue to spur one another on toward good deeds, celebrate the victories small and large, and think creatively about how we can express our faith with justice in mind.

Ben Cressy is a recent graduate of Eastern University, in St. Davids, PA. He is currently working as the BFJN's organizing coordinator, working part-time for 10,000 Villages in Brookline, and lives in the Uphams Corner neighborhood of Dorchester, of which is proud to start calling home.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Something about local businesses

Last week, I had the privilege of posting this piece by one of the BFJN interns on our website. So, please read, enjoy and chew on the piece below:

Newsflash: Cadbury to use Fairtrade cocoa in its Dairy Milk bar in the UK (Fairtrade–one word–is to the UK what Fair Trade–two words–is to the US).

This is big news. Enormous news. Cadbury Dairy Milk is the most popular chocolate bar in the UK. Thousands of Ghanaian cocoa growers will now be able to support themselves because of this commitment–literally tripling the volume of Fairtrade cocoa coming from Ghana.

Not to mention the pressure that this puts on other chocolate companies like Nestle and Hershey, both of which haven’t been exactly on the forefront of human rights. Even better news, big businesses are investing in Fair Trade all the time–Starbucks, Walmart and others have all started stocking fair goods.

So now we can start the day with a Fair Trade Starbucks coffee, go Fair Trade shopping at Walmart and nibble on some Fair Trade Cadbury and call it a night. This is as good as it gets, right?

Well, no.

And don’t get me wrong–if it is a choice between Cadbury selling Fair Trade chocolate or not, I of course would choose to have them do it. But let’s not confuse progress for prophecy. As people of faith, we’re not only called to see how the existing world can improve within its own confines, but envision a world where we live by different rules entirely. One where the impoverished become the greatest, the blind become the most visionary and the peacemakers end up ahead of the moneymakers.

After all, let’s not forget the story of the widow’s offering, where a widow, who gives the only two coins she has to live off of, contributes more than the rich with their abundant and generous donations. It would seem that it’s not about the size of the offering but how whole-heartedly it is made. A big company may sell millions of dollars of Fair Trade goods, but if those sales only constitute 1% of their market, is it really doing business as justly as possible?

In contrast, consider one of Boston’s very own Fair Trade vendors, like the Haley House Cafe and Bakery (profiles of Boston’s Fair Trade hot spots coming soon!). In comparison to traditional businesses, shops like the Haley House put people as a first priority. Fair Trade coffee? Of course. Organic croutons? Why not! Employing people from transitional housing to give them a chance in this world? It’s only natural.

And this is the end goal that we have to set our sights on: individuals consciously supporting companies who protect the dignity of humanity, period. Businesses that buy Fair Trade not because it’s a good PR move but because doing anything otherwise is unimaginable. That is what we have to be working for.

In the end it is going to be the tiny, local coffee shops that will be making the enormous difference.

Tyler Sit is an intern for the Boston Faith and Justice Network. He is a student at Boston University and a candidate in the United Methodist ordination process.