Congregation Asked to Participate in Fair Trade Program
Members of Grateful for Grace Lutheran Church have contributed to many worthy causes and now the congregation is being asked to participate in Lutheran World Relief’s (LWR) Fair Trade programs. These three programs give the members an opportunity to live out their faith by making consumer choices which ultimately help improve the economic conditions of third world producers.
Lutheran World Relief is a non-profit agency supported by both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The agency was formed during WWII to help European countries recover from the devastation of war. It has since developed into an organization that helps those in need all over the world.
LWR often responds to emergencies like the tsunami in December of 2004. It also tries to provide long-term solutions to poverty. The agency developed the fair trade programs to help address poverty issues in third world countries.
The fair trade movement is an international movement
The fair trade movement also grew out of the devastation caused by WWII. Churches were instrumental in beginning the movement in Europe. In order to help the ravaged communities recover, the churches sold the artisan’s handicrafts. By the 1970’s Alternative Trade Organizations (ATO) were importing and selling small quantities of handicrafts to churches and social organizations. In the 1980’s the fair trade label Max Havelaar expanded its products to include food items such as coffee and chocolate.
In order for the fair trade concept to work, there has to be a connection between the artisans and farmers of developing countries and the large markets in North America and Western Europe. Organizations on both the international and national levels oversee compliance to fair trade standards. These standards not only help to ensure that a fairer price is paid for products, but also address other issues including:
- Reasonable credit programs for farmers and craftspeople
- Environmentally sound guidelines for production
- Equal rights for women in the workforce
Two of these organizations are associated with the LWR products:
- The Fairtrade Labelling Organization (FLO), on an international level, sets standards and certifies that producers follow those standards. According to FLO, in 2005 its Fairtrade system helped 1 million people in 58 countries.
- TransFair USA, a non-profit organization in the United States, certifies fair trade products for the U.S. consumer.
Kattie Somerfeld, LWR’s Fair Trade Products Coordinator, indicated that on a basic level, consuming fair trade products helps those in developing countries by cutting out the middlemen, providing fairer wages, and enabling farmers and artisans to reinvest money into their businesses and communities.
LWR offers three fair trade products
Fair Trade Coffee was the first fair trade program advocated by LWR. In 1996 LWR partnered with Equal Exchange to provide an easy way for congregations to obtain the fair trade coffee.
LWR receives 20 cents for each pound of coffee sold and uses that money to help improve coffee farming conditions. In 2003 LWR challenged Lutheran congregations and organizations to purchase 90 tons of coffee that year. That challenge was met. In 2005 there were more than 3,000 participants in the Fair Trade Coffee program and all 50 states were represented.
In 1999 the Fair Trade Handcraft program was introduced in partnership with SERVV International. Items can be ordered through a catalog or at a Fair Trade Fair at the congregational level. LWR receives between 7.5 percent and 10 percent of all sales. Somerfeld said last year’s sales in The Handcraft program doubled, even though there was very little promotion.
Fair Trade Chocolate was introduced in 2003. LWR once again partnered with SERVV International to sell Divine Chocolate from the Day Chocolate Company, a company owned by the farmers themselves. As with the Handcraft program, LWR receives 7.5 percent to 10 percent of chocolate sales. This fair trade product provides an additional opportunity for churches because the congregation can sell the candy bars as a local fundraiser.
Why should Grateful for Grace consider Fair Trade?
Participating in LWR’s Fair Trade programs provides Grateful for Grace three ways to help others by providing:
- a fairer wage to those in third-world countries
- a percentage of sales that LWR reinvests in communities of developing countries
- an opportunity to raise funds for the congregation
What is the next step?
Encouraging the leaders of the church to participate in LWR’s Fair Trade programs is the most important thing for you to do now. After the programs are established you are asked to support them financially by buying the fair trade coffee, chocolate and handcrafts.
When asked what she thinks is most important to remember, Somerfeld said the Fair Trade programs are “a concrete way for people – especially people of faith – to take an active role in making a difference in the world.”
Pictures were obtained from the LWR web site and are reproduced with permission from LWR.