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Fair trade concept offers just wages for labor

Nick Albares, from the archdiocesan Office of Justice and Peace, had an idea. Why not ask Catholic Relief Services’ Southeast Region Fair Trade Ambassadors Paula Taylor and Traci Taylor, who had been working independently to promote Fair Trade, to join forces.

From that simple thought sprung the local CRS Fair Trade Committee of the Office of Justice and Peace that has promoted fair trade in schools, parishes and offices in the Archdiocese of New Orleans since May.

Paula Taylor and Traci Taylor lead a committee of nine like-minded individuals who promote the work of indigent farmers and artisans worldwide.

“I feel like there is strength in numbers,” Traci Taylor, an AmeriCorps/Vista volunteer with Hands on New Orleans, said.

Familiar with Fair Trade

Both Traci and Paula Taylor are no strangers to CRS’ work and believe strongly in Fair Trade. Paula Taylor had conducted CRS fund-raisers for many years as a high school religion teacher before joining the archdiocesan Office of Religious Education. Traci Taylor experienced Fair Trade firsthand by picking olives alongside Fair Trade workers in Palestine.

Paula Taylor said the Catholic Relief Services concept of fair trade is simple. By buying a Fair Trade product, individuals not only help the producers of goods earn more money for their effort but also create a more secure life for that person’s family. CRS works with more than a dozen Fair Trade partners  who find farmers, artists and craftsmen and ensure safe work conditions for these individuals.

“Our whole focus is for the original producers to receive a just payment for their labor and their products,” Paula Taylor said.

CRS’ fair trade program goes beyond just helping improve workers’ lives. The program targets improving whole communities by working cooperatively with the people to upgrade education, clean water sources, sanitation or whatever the local people deem is needed.

One of the most significant accomplishments of the committee thus far has come in the form of a special blend of coffee, “Fair Trade Coffee and Chicory,” made through a local partnership.

“One of the big fair trade items is coffee,” committee member Madeline Fox said. “We know how New Orleanians love coffee, so I began working with Orleans Coffee Exchange.”

Fox said she collaborated with company owner Bob Arceneaux to mix fair trade beans from Sumatra, Mexico, Nicaragua and Honduras with chicory from France to produce a local coffee blend just for the committee.

Proceeds from this coffee are given to the CRS Fair Trade Fund. The fund helps development projects worldwide (especially in Latin America, India and Africa), promotes fair trade and helps pay for fair trade ambassador training, Taylor said.

Busy last two months

October is lauded as fair trade month, and committee members were visible especially in September and October with fair trade brochures, information and products at various archdiocesan events. They were well-received with Fair Trade Coffee and Chicory, Divine chocolate and Work of Human Hands goods and at a Racial Harmony prayer service at St. Clement of Rome, CRS’ Parish Partnership training at St. Maria Goretti, a Pax Christi prayer service, a Theology on Tap event in Elmwood and at World Youth Day at Loyola University, where more than 50 young adults heard a presentation. Anyone on the committee can speak about fair trade at community meetings.

“One of our goals is to try to implement in parishes to be one with and live the Gospel through our faith by adopting one of the products,” Jean Thomeczek said.

The committee wants to educate Catholics about fair trade. It’s more than just giving to a CRS mission collection once a year.

“It’s not charity,” Paula Taylor said. “It’s a system where people are paid just wages, and it gives dignity to the human person and their work.”

Parishes and other groups could easily embrace fair trade without much effort. The committee suggests hosting a Work of Human Hands party, selling fair trade products from CRS catalogs or shopping online, using the CRS “Raise Money Right” program to sell Fair Trade chocolate or using Fair Trade Coffee and Chicory in offices, lunchrooms and at events.

“It may cost you a few more dollars a year, but you are helping others without having to do more,” Thomeczek said. “It’s something small but could help (a person and community) tremendously.”

“Not everybody can go to Haiti, but you could buy some chocolate and help,” Fox said.

The committee plans to be present at the Office of Justice and Peace table at the Hofinger Conference in New Orleans in January, and is working to promote fair trade on a larger scale with fliers and pledge commitments surrounding World Fair Trade Day, which will be celebrated on May 12, 2012.

Committee members aim to impact the lives of others less fortunate than themselves.

“I hope we go after what the dreams of the people are and help them realize it,” said committee member Sister of Mercy Rose Weidenbenner.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .