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The Philosophy of Fair Trade

Note: the following piece was co-authored by Providence Associates Jane Fischer, Joan Frisz and Suzie Ray.

“The economy should serve people, not the other way around.” All the principles of fair trade embody this principle of Catholic social teaching. Fair trade promotes the dignity of workers by ensuring fair wages and by helping vulnerable producers maintain their livelihoods when traditional economic structures shut them out.”  — U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In 2023, shoppers report inflation as the “most important challenge facing the world” with poverty and economic justice following at 44 percent. However, with fair trade, everyone benefits. If you regularly shop at grocery stores, check out the produce aisles by looking for the fair trade label on items such as avocados, bananas, chocolate/cocoa, coffee, and tea. Fair trade is not limited to agricultural products. You should think about fair trade every time you shop. “Visibility of Fairtrade products has increased since 2021 for nearly all major product categories in the US.” Shoppers recognizing certification more than doubled from 2019 to 2023 – 28 percent to 61 percent.

Fair trade is directly connected to love, mercy, and justice.  Providence Associate Joan Frisz, the guest on our JUSTus Podcast, is the Executive Director of Just Creations, a nonprofit, fair trade store in Louisville, Kentucky. Joan says that fair trade “provides us with sustainable opportunities to marginalized farmers and artisans in developing countries.” In 2013, Joan met Laxmi Maharjan, an artisan working with craft producers in Kathmandu, Nepal.  Laxmi Maharjan is one of the founding artisans working with the Association of Craft Producers (ACP).

Laxmi had been a weaver all of her life but had never seen the money from any of her work. Then in 1984, when she received her first payment directly from ACP, she cried tears of joy. She was 25-years-old and it was the first time she had received money of her own because it always went to the male in her life, either her father or her husband.

Laxmi works on a 60-year-old loom. All of the warps are set up in Laxmi’s home. After 5 years of working with ACP, Laxmi was asked to organize a group of weavers in her home village of Kirtipur. With ACP’s help, Laxmi organized 60 women in her village to begin weaving, earning income, and saving it on their own. Laxmi’s work has brought economic viability and a huge change to the status of women in her village. Women have been able to influence the education and health of their children, particularly their girl children.

ACP helped Laxmi save the money she earned, and she used it to send her three children to school. While she had never had the opportunity to be educated, she understood its value, particularly for girls. As a result, she sent her daughter and her sons to the same high-quality school. Eventually, all of her children earned college degrees.

ACP now works with more than 1,200 artisans in the Kathmandu area. In an ironic twist, their weaving group now employs men of the village, including Laxmi’s husband. Since Laxmi is the group leader, her husband now works under her leadership. This would have been unheard of in years past but is welcome now because the men have been able to see the great economic benefits the women’s work has brought to their village.

At Just Creations, we like to say that Fair Trade Makes a World of Difference. It matters to the coffee farmers who have a more direct path to the market. It makes a difference to Laxmi and the women of Kirtipur who are able to earn, save, and invest because they are respected in the workplace. And it makes a difference to the thousands of others who benefit when we use our purchasing power for good.

Learn more about Fair Trade by visiting Rockwell University’s Fair Trade Info Packet.

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The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, are a congregation of Roman Catholic women religious (sisters) who minister throughout the United States and Taiwan. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. The congregation has a mission of being God's Providence in the world by committing to performing works of love, mercy and justice in service among God's people.

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