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FAIR TRADE Jun-6-2011 (790 words) With photos. xxxn
Coffee, chocolate, Catholicism come together in CRS fair-trade program
By Sara Angle
Women sort beans at a fair-trade coffee project in Matagalpa, Nicaragua. (CNS/Catholic Relief Services)
Catholic News Service
WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Coffee, chocolate and Catholicism are three words that rarely appear in conjunction with one another, but the fair-trade division of Catholic Relief Services manages to tie them together to promote solidarity with workers around the world.
CRS, the international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community, says it sees the value in promoting fair-trade operations and has putting it on the agenda for Catholics by educating them about its purpose.
Based in Baltimore, CRS is known for providing assistance across the world to the poor, suffering and vulnerable, but its advocacy of fair-trade is one way the agency works to alleviate poverty and work toward global economic justice.
By focusing on coffee, chocolate and artisan crafts, CRS gives Catholics a way to purchase with a purpose.
"It's faith-based but takes place in a secular dimension," Jackie DeCarlo, CRS fair-trade senior program adviser, told CNS in a phone interview May 23.
The goal of fair trade is to create a market that values those who produce the food people eat and create the goods they use.
CRS fair-trade materials point out that the concept is in keeping with Catholic social teaching by promoting human dignity, environmental stewardship, subsidiarity and a commitment to helping the poor through one's daily choices.
The Fair Trade Federation in Washington has developed criteria that must be met for something to be officially approved as fair trade. According to its website, traders who purchase products certified as fair-trade agree to pay a price to producers that at least covers the costs of sustainable production; pay a premium that producers can invest in development; partially pay in advance when producers ask for it; and sign contracts that allow for long-term planning and sustainable production practices.
CRS fair-trade policy adheres to the federation's commitment to provide opportunities for advancement, equal employment opportunities, environmentally sustainable practices, and openness to public accountability, healthy and safe working conditions, and financial and technical assistance to producers when possible.
"Since we (CRS) are trying to promote human development, fair trade is a way to increase incomes and invest in communities. ... These are long term partnerships where we are able to nurture and empower people at the grass-roots level and live out (Catholic) values in the marketplace," said DeCarlo.
CRS also has 100 volunteers in the United States who have been trained and commissioned as fair-trade ambassadors. They promote fair trade by organizing events in parishes and schools in their communities.
The partnership between producers and consumers aims to eliminate relationships that are considered to be exploitative and ensure farmers and artisans receive fair prices for their goods and can engage in sustainable production methods.
"The Gospel call focuses on trying to reach out to our brothers and sisters. We are called to remember those folks who are suffering and struggling to fulfill their human potential. This is a way to live faith and do it in a personal way. It's very tangible," said DeCarlo.
CRS has partnered with more than a dozen coffee companies that roast and sell their beans according to fair-trade policy. The certified beans can be purchased directly from the seller for personal use, or for use in businesses, at parishes and for community events.
Dean's Beans in Orange, Mass., was the first coffee licensee with CRS. Dean Cycon, who owns and operates the business, said he chose to collaborate with the Catholic agency because he feels its long-held values have an impact on the world that goes beyond fair trade.
Cycon believes that one cup a day really can make a difference. "I believe in the old saying from the Bhagavad Gita ... 'Add your light to the sum of lights.' It's about our cumulative contributions. All the lights can hold back the darkness," he told CNS.
"When consumers buy from organizations that are 100 percent committed to upholding the principles of fair trade, they can be sure that their values are being supported."
For Cycon, the most rewarding part about the fair-trade business is "working with people who have been so downtrodden and then seeing a spark of light in them when they realize that they can control their own lives."
The CRS Fair Trade Chocolate Project also partners with Divine Chocolate from SERRV, a nonprofit fair-trade and development organization, and Organic Chocolate from Equal Exchange. Their products are made from cocoa beans that pass fair-trade standards. Many groups choose to sell the chocolate bars as an alternative to more traditional fundraisers.
A portion of purchases from any of CRS' partners go to the CRS Fair Trade Fund. The fund provides grants to increase the size fair-trade market in the United States as well as grants that help artisans and farmers overseas work competitively in the U.S. fair-trade market.
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