Archive - January 2018

The Fair Trade Movement: Helping to Repair the World

Germantown Jewish Centre and Fair Trade

by Elliott Seiff

One major part of the mission at Germantown Jewish Centre (GJC)  is that Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) is central to our identity as a Jewish community. As a result, we have identified many ways for our members to volunteer to make a difference, including reading to students at a local elementary school, helping the homeless, and supporting recent refugees to America. We have ongoing educational opportunities to enlighten ourselves about important issues of the day. And we also belong to POWER, a coalition of over sixty congregations in the area, that advocates for improving educational and social conditions in our region. You can find more information about the major GJC Tikkun Olam initiatives and ongoing events by linking to the GJC website, under the Tikkun Olam tab.

One of the newest initiatives is our participation in the Fair Trade Movement. Imagine if there was one way to help others, consistent with our Tikkun Olam values, that involves relatively small changes to our everyday lives. What if these changes simply involved a conscious effort to more carefully decide what to buy – your food, your gifts, your coffee? That’s what the Fair Trade movement is all about.

Fair Trade provides greater economic and social fairness – i.e. social justice – to workers, farmers and craftspeople around the world. Unfortunately, in the current International economic arena, it is relatively easy for those who control markets to exploit workers. Too often farmers are forced to receive low payments for their products, with most of the share of profits going to middlemen and corporations. These farmers live in a kind of serfdom. They cannot afford any of the common decencies that we take for granted – decent shelter, enough food on the table, and an education for their children. Often their children are forced to work in the fields and ignore educational opportunities.

Fair traders operate by a set of rules that provide workers who live in developing countries with higher earnings and living wages, so that they have better economic opportunity. With fair trade, poor people around the world are given the opportunity to build sustainable communities. Fair trade cooperatives often give workers greater control over their own lives. Fair trade rules include the maintenance of environmental standards, greater gender equity (less exploitation of women), worker education, and better health programs. They assure that child labor has not been used and that children are given the opportunity to go to school and get an education. Communities involved in fair trade are significantly improved. The poor are empowered.

There are a number of Fair Trade organizations that certify that those around the world who grow and produce items, such as coffee, furniture, gift items, housewares, clothing, and other goods, follow Fair Trade rules. We are fortunate to have in our community a number of stores that carry fair-traded goods, among them Weavers Way Cooperative, Ten Thousand Villages, and of course our very own GJC Little Shop. That makes it easier for those of us who live in this community to buy fair traded products. Sometimes buying these items means that we need to go out of our way to find them in local stores. Sometimes these items cost a little more than non fair-traded items. But we all have to ask ourselves – can we afford not to support fair trade, given what it does to help and support so many people around the world? Even just purchasing one or two more Fair Trade items than you do now can make a difference to those being exploited around the world.

Fair Trade is consistent with Jewish Values

Within the Fair Trade movement is Fair Trade Judaica, a Jewish organization that supports the Fair Trade movement because it is highly consistent with Jewish values. At the Fair Trade Judaica website, you can learn why the Fair Trade movement is so strongly connected to Jewish values, and also learn about and be able to directly purchase various Fair Trade Judaica products, such as Chanukah gelt, kippot, mezuzahs, candlesticks, and other ritual objects, as well as a large assortment of Jewish related items.

Germantown Jewish Centre and Fair Trade

With the support of the GJC Tikkun Olam Coordinating Team (TOCT) and synagogue staff, a Fair Trade subcommittee headed by Betsy Teutsch has worked with the Little Shop and the Religious School to actively involve GJC in the Fair Trade movement. The Little Shop recently successfully sold Fair Trade Jewish Blessing Flags as decorations for Sukkahs, and teamed up with the Religious school and ECP to sell Fair Trade Chanukah gelt. We expect that more Fair Trade Jewish-related holiday and other religious items will be made available and sold through the Little Shop as the year progresses.

Last year the Religious School students explored the Fair Trade movement through an engaging, interactive economic simulation activity. We are working with Rabbi Alanna Sklover, Director of the Religious School, to make Fair Trade one of the Mitzvah project options for Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. And, last but not least, we are working with synagogue staff to consider how best to ensure that the coffee used at the synagogue is fair-traded.

As a result of all these activities, GJC is moving closer to becoming a “Fair Trade synagogue” where we are all conscious of what we buy, where we continually educate about Fair Trade, and where more synagogue purchases and items for sale are “Fair Trade” items.

In sum, while there are many ways for GJC members to become involved in Tikkun Olam through GJC, a relatively simple way for every member of GJC to “repair the world” is to become conscious of the Fair Trade movement and to make efforts to purchase Fair Trade items on a regular basis. Small differences in what each of us purchases can cumulatively lead to profound differences in how people live across the globe. It can help change the world from one consisting of poverty and exploitation to one of sustainable lifestyles and educational opportunity. We hope that you too will join with us to “shop Fair Trade” for both your everyday and Judaica items, in order to create a better world for all its citizens.

Elliott Seif holds a PhD from Washington University in St Louis in Educational Research, and is a long time educator. He is a member of the Tikkun Olam Coordinating Team and its Fair Trade committee at Germantown Jewish Centre, and the accordionist with G’vanim, GJC’s band that gives expression to the immense variety of Jewish music from around the world.

SECRET PAIN By Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg

child and cocoaA poor man came to visit Rav Joseph Baer the great grandfather of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik just before Passover. He had a question of Jewish law, “I cannot afford to buy wine, if I drink four cups of milk do I fulfill the obligation to drink the four cups of wine?” The rabbi quickly responded ‘No’ and gave him 25 rubles with which to buy wine. Surprised, the rabbi’s wife inquired, “Wine for his Seder would at most cost 3 rubles, why did you give him so much, 25 rubles?” “This poor man had a secret he did not share with us. His secret pain was he did not have enough money to buy chicken and matzah, as well as wine.” The wife asked, “And how do you know this?” The rabbi responded, “Because he would never mix meat with milk. I gave him money to buy the food he needed to make a proper Seder.”

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik saw the secret pain of this poor man. (From The Night that Unites: Passover Haggadah edited by Aaron Goldheider). This week’s Torah reading is Parshat Kedoshim which includes the famous verse, Leviticus 19:18 “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow man as yourself: I am the Lord.” You all know Hillel’s famous statement, “The rest is commentary, now go study the commentary.” Rashi comments, “The Tanna Rabbi Akiba said, ‘This is a great rule in the Torah.’” On this critical verse, let us see what is added by Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov (1745–1807). Reb Moshe was in a saloon where he overheard the conversation of two patrons who were drinking and overeating, and then each gave the other a big hug. “Do you really love me?” the other replied, “But of course.” The first responded, “How can that be if you do not know my secret pain?” Reb Moshe then revealed the deeper meaning of our verse, “You cannot really love another if you do not know their secret pain.”

This is a beautiful bar of chocolate. What do you see? What associations do you have with chocolate? Growing up for Cathy, my wife, if it wasn’t chocolate, it wasn’t dessert. She especially remembers her Aunt Lois’ amazing chocolate cakes. When our boys were young, after they shoveled the snow from our driveway, their reward was hot chocolate with whipped cream. I knew I was welcomed into Cathy’s family when I came for my first visit and received a gift-wrapped package of Frango Chocolate Mints from Marshall Fields. For all of Cathy’s family get togethers, whoever was hosting would buy Cora Lee handmade Chocolates. One year a cousin pushed in the bottoms on every chocolate to make sure she got the filling she wanted.

Now let me tell you about the secret pain that you do not see inside this bar of chocolate, your favorite hot chocolate, or that handmade bonbon. The cocoa industry has over a hundred year history of being investigated for child labor/slavery violations. In 1905 an investigative report appeared in Harper’s Bazaar documenting the use of slavery on the Portuguese island of Sao Tome. It took years before Cadbury (originally founded by Quakers), which contributed funds to anti-slavery programs at home in England, ceased using slaves on the island. One hundred years later the slavery continues. Almost half of the world’s cocoa is sourced from the Ivory Coast. There are 48,000 small farms.

Many of the laborers are children tricked into coming to earn money for their families. Other children are kidnapped in nearby Mali and Burkina Faso and trafficked over the border on motorbikes. The children, ages 10-16, work 10-12 hours a day; they are rarely paid and certainly do not go to school. They are beaten so they are afraid to escape, and perform dangerous tasks like cutting the cocoa pods down with larger machetes. Companies like Nestle’s and Hershey’s do not deny that they buy from bulk resellers not directly from the farmers, so there is little they can do. They also point out that the Ivory Coast has laws against child labor, and they are not responsible for enforcing that nation’s laws. My friends, there is a secret pain every time we bite into a bar of chocolate, sip hot chocolate or eat a Hershey’s Kiss. What we are enjoying is the product of child slaves.

What can we do? Let me suggest three things to make visible the secret pain of chocolate.

  • Get informed. Be educated. I recommend the 56 minute documentary The Dark Side of Chocolate. Learn about the international movement of Fair Trade.
  • Buy ethically sourced chocolate, including fair trade certified brands.
  • Make your synagogue into a Fair Trade synagogue. Join the campaign. Every Shabbat, on our bimah, our rabbi hands each child a small piece of chocolate to teach that the Torah is sweet. He hand delivers sweet and ethically sourced Fair Trade chocolate bits. Let us return to the famous verse, Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your countrymen. Love your fellow as yourself: I am the Lord.”

R’ Naftali Zvi Horowitz, the Ropshitzer Rebbe (1760-1827), was a Hasidic Rebbe to thousands; he was known for teaching that one must always be ready to pray. When he was in heder learning at an early age his teacher taught him that when the Hebrew letter yod appears twice in a text side-by-side those two letters spell the name of God. One day the young Naftali came to his teacher with what he thought was the name of God. He was mistaken. He showed him the Hebrew vowel sheva. Two dots one on top of the other, not side-by-side. “See here is the name of God.” The teacher responded, “No, my son. The name of God is when two yods are side-by-side, but here this one on top of the other, this is a sheva, the sound of nothing.” Rabbi Naftali would later teach the simple meaning of this verse, ‘Love your fellow as yourself’ means when two people stand by his side, in one row, then, Ani Adonai, God is present.”

My dear friends, it is time to stand side-by-side by the child laborers of West Africa. My dear friends it is time to see the secret pain of others, then God is truly present in our lives. Amen

** Rabbi Elliot Salo Schoenberg is the Associate Executive Director and International Director of Placement at the Rabbinical Assembly. This is a copy of the sermon he will be giving on Fair Trade Shabbat 2016.

NEW Fair Trade Coffee Pledge

Coffee Beans CupCoffee is something near and dear to my heart. From that first cup in the morning, to the mug I dawdle over while chatting with a friend, to the shots of espresso that keep me awake during late night study sessions. Coffee is a necessary and beloved part of my life.

Judaism gives me the tools to turn those necessary and beloved parts of my life into holy acts. With kashrut and blessings before and after, I can make sure that I imbue even seemingly secular acts with a holy sanctity. But in the case of coffee, drinking a kosher cup isn’t quite enough. In order to really transform this act into a holy deed, I need to make sure that my indulgence doesn’t harm the wellbeing of others.

I was first introduced to fair trade, fittingly enough, in a Jewish context. As a high school student in a Jewish school, one of my rabbis sent the class a website that could “calculate” how many slaves we had working for us based on our consumer habits. That day spurred a revolution in my own thinking. How could I sit at the Passover seder and ask an empty doorway to send those who were hungry to come and eat while the coffee I had drunk that very morning was facilitating slavery?

Thankfully, I was left with more than just questions, I had answers. By buying fair trade coffee, I could ensure that the coffee that I so cherish actively helps to lift up the men and women who grow and harvest it.

The Jewish community has an amazing opportunity before us. With the amount of coffee that we purchase, we can make a huge and concrete difference in people’s lives.  That’s why I want synagogues to sign a pledge committing to only buying fair trade certified coffee. Let’s all work together to elevate this common act into a holy one.

I have been so lucky to find amazing partners in Fair Trade Judaica and T’ruah, as well as unbelievable rabbis and teachers at Ziegler who are able to see every daf of Talmud and every halakhah as a means to opening our hearts to the people and the world around us. All of us are united in our belief that Judaism invites us and demands us to connect with God through our ability to see and connect with one another.

How fitting that this week’s parsha is Mishpatim. We have just received the Ten Commandments and what is the very next thing we learn? How to treat the people, the animals, and the land around us. Human rights is not peripheral to Judaism, it is the very essence of who we are as a people.

Together with Jewish communities everywhere, we have the ability to transform our relationship as a Jewish people to the products we purchase and the men and women who produce them. By taking the Fair Trade Coffee Pledge, a synagogue is taking a stand that starting with coffee, the products that we serve to bring us together as a community, will no longer keep people down, but will raise them up in dignity. Join the movement!

Rachel Braun
Rabbinical Student
Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies
T’ruah Summer Fellow in Human Rights, ’14

Let’s be partners for change

Today’s guest post is by Author and Book Reviewer Ronald Fischman, with deep thanks for his reflections on our Mishkan Shalom (Philadelphia) presentation. Ron writes:

I remember the very beginning of microcredit as a movement. I was there. My congressman, Ed Feighan (D-OH) introduced legislation that would make it part of US foreign aid. I worked with his legislative director, George Stephanopoulos, yes, that one, to make it law. Today my heart leapt as I met Ilana Schatz, Executive Director of Fair Trade Judaica, and learned of her initiative to make microenterprise the norm at Jewish B’nai Mitzvah, weddings, and synagogue celebrations. Why was I so pumped?

If you don’t have time to read my gushing review, you have my blessing to go learn for yourself.

I learned of a weaver named Lili Carmen Osario in the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala, where my two children were born, who created the first ever Fair Trade Tallit (prayer shawl), and who trained five other weavers to make these on order through MayaWorks in Chicago (, Mayaworks has people tie the fringes under Rabbinic supervision. Wouldn’t it be better to give such a special prayer garment to your son or daughter? Wouldn’t he or she look forward to showing off the new holy threads at services AFTER becoming Bar or Bat Mitzvah, knowing that they helped the children of a village go to school?

I learned of a micro farmers cooperative in Ghana, West Africa, with 65,000 members who hold stock in and sit on the board of their distribution company. With their profits, the members have provided safe drinking water, free primary education, and basic health care to themselves on a cooperative basis, and listen! Before the cooperative, when the only source of credit was a moneylender, dozens of micro farmers lost their land. Together, the coop bought back these farms and lent the money to the farmers to begin anew.

I learned of a cooperative in Nepal which is so successful that it advertises in the airline magazine for people on transoceanic flights. But this is no corporation, no shadowy entity controlled by a few self-dealing insiders. I saw the photos of the cooperators themselves. Ilana told us about them and each of their families! I was thrilled to learn the origin of the prayer flags that had popped up in my synagogue.

What can you do? First, visit the Fair Trade Judaica website and explore. Don’t worry, if a product you or your organization wants is available direct from the artisan, the site will give you the link to order directly. Second, contact them directly if you want to incorporate anything from kosher fair trade chocolate to kippot for a celebration. Third, introduce this concept in your synagogue or organization. Learn and share why this is a Jewish issue. You can make it a policy that your synagogue will NOT buy textiles made in sweatshops in China or Bangladesh. When there is a will, there’s a way.

Let’s be partners for change.

Ronald Fischman

Celebrate October Fair Trade Month

Fair trade monthOctober is Fair Trade Month, a great time to learn more about the positive impact of Fair Trade on farmers and artisans, and to make a stronger commitment to integrating Fair Trade into our daily lives.

I was inspired by this article by Jackie DeCarlo of Catholic Relief Services, who has been a fair trade advocate for a long time, and hope it will inspire you as well!

The Brawl Over Fair Trade Coffee

As many of you already know, Fair Trade USA withdrew its membership from The international Fairtrade Labeling Organization (FLO) last fall, creating one of the biggest controversies in the fair trade movement historically.  Since then:

  • FLO has been meeting with a broad range of fair trade constituents to set up a new certifying body for products distributed through the U.S., and Fair Trade Canada has been assuming that responsibility in the interim
  • Fair Trade USA launched its own program, “Fair for All’, which expands to include certification of coffee grown on plantations and estates (vs. cooperatives)
  • Small farm producers have garnered forces to establish their own label
  • Some Fair Trade businsses have switched certification systems

The controversy continues to heat up! Here’s a comprehensive review that was recently published in “The Nation.”

BIG News in the U.S. Fair Trade World!

Life in the U.S. Fair Trade movement has been in flux since Fair Trade U.S.A. (formerly TransFair) decided to withdraw from Fairtrade International, the global umbrella certifying organization (see our blog).

Following several months of conversations with fair trade businesses, consumers, producers, and other key stakeholders, Fairtrade International has decided to create a legal presence in the U.S. by early April to facilitate use of the international FAIRTRADE Mark in the market here. They will establishing a consultative panel including a variety of fair trade stakeholders, to ensure an appropriate structure, good governance, accountability, and a strong voice for Fair Trade in the U.S. Their vision is to create a “powerful, collaborative diverse coalition that is united in its belief in producer development and empowerment.”

During 2012-13, while this model is being established, FLO member organization Fairtrade Canada will continue to assist companies who would like to remain part of the global Fairtrade system.

Fairtrade International recognizes “that there are many different approaches to Fair Trade. The global Fairtrade system will compete respectfully with FTUSA, to ensure that our cumulative efforts will continue to strengthen producers’ position in international trade and improve livelihoods.”

Good and Not so Good News about Hershey’s

Big news in the fair trade world! The good news is that Hershey’s has finally committed to third party monitoring; it has committed to purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified cocoa for its Bliss Chocolate products and will invest $10 million in education and its smart-phone CocoaLink project to teach West African farmers to be more efficient and increase their crop yields.

This is the first commitment that Hershey has made to using independent third-party certification to ensure that its cocoa is grown sustainably. But, increasing crop yields is not guaranteed to bring in sufficient income for a family to encourage its children to go to school instead of working in the fields.

This is great news, reflecting the positive impact that consumer advocacy can have on a company. Hershey heard from more than 100,000 consumers (including many Fair Trade Judaica participants), who expressed their concern about children being involved with harvesting cocoa for their products.

The not so good news has two parts:

– Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on how farms are managed, compared with fair trade standards, which are designed to tackle poverty and empower producers in the world’s poorest countries, giving them a guaranteed price for their products. Additionally, Fair Trade Certification monitors to assure that no child labor is used during production.

– When Hershey acquired the Dagoba chocolate product line in 2006, it maintained its Fair Trade Certification. Hershey has now decided to switch Dagoba’s certification to the Rainforest Alliance, eliminating the more stringent fair trade standards.

If you’d like to get involved, contact the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign!

BIG News in the Fair Trade Movement

Fair Trade USA (FTUSA, formerly Transfair) announced earlier this fall that it is resigning its membership in Fairtrade International (FLO), the international fair trade certification organization. FTUSA, the dominant certifier in the U.S. market has been a key member of the FLO since 1998 when it was founded; its certifiying label is widely recognized on fair trade products in the U.S. It has launched a new initiative, Fair for All, which expands fair trade certification to coffee laborers on plantations.

History of the Fair Trade Movement

Beginning roughly around the 1940s, Fair Trade as we know it today, began in reaction to the exploitive trading relationships and harsh working conditions that were common in many tropical commodities industries (coffee, chocolate, and sugar to name a few). Direct trade relationships were initiated by church and community groups in order to create direct trade relationships with producers, effectively creating an alternative supply chain parallel to conventional trade. These alternative trade relationships created direct partnerships among producers and consumers and were defined by better prices, longer-term contracts and personal relationships.

The movement spread to countries all around the world — including the US, Canada, countries in Europe, New Zealand and Australia — and, eventually, national Fair Trade groups such as Fair Trade Canada were formed. In 1997, these national groups joined under one umbrella organization called the Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International headquartered in Bonn, Germany. The FLO has since changed its name to Fairtrade International.

In 1998, the Fair Trade label was born in order to help producers access more markets for their products, which catapulted Fair Trade towards the success it’s had to date. The Fairtrade Labeling Organization in Germany sets the standards for Fair Trade products, and FLO-CERT (a separate company) ensures that these standards are met by producers’ organizations around the world. In all the respective countries where Fair Trade goods are sold, local organizations (like Fair Trade Canada here, or the Fair Trade Foundation in the UK, for example) ensure that only products that meet the FLO standards bear the Fair Trade label.

Implications and Response

One of the FLO’s most important functions has been to set Fair Trade standards, which has ensured, that from Vancouver to Beijing, consumers know exactly what the Fair Trade label represents. The system hasn’t always been perfect, and the FLO, along with its member organizations, have done a lot to reform the standards to ensure that all stakeholders in Fair Trade are represented – especially producers and producer groups. Fair Trade’s most famous standards have been financial ones: the Fair Trade minimum price and the Fair Trade social premium, but that’s not all Fair Trade is about. One of the most celebrated Fair Trade standards has been the requirement that producers organize themselves in democratically run co-operatives, where all members have an equal voice in the way business is done and the way the Fair Trade premium is spent. These cooperatives have become powerful forces in Fair Trade, and have helped producers pool together resources and discover power in numbers that otherwise might not be available if they were working independently.

FTUSA’s resignation from FLO is highly significant:

  1. This is the first time since the birth of the FLO that any national organization has decided to leave the unifying umbrella network that the FLO has provided since the late 1990s.
  2. This is the first time ever that a national organization has decided to split from the FLO to unilaterally develop its own standards for a given product. Furthermore, the standards that Fair Trade USA has decided to develop for coffee do not include a requirement for producers to be organized in democratically run cooperatives.

FTUSA’s decision to leave FLO has been met with predominantly negative reaction from most sectors of the fair trade movement. You can read statements from a variety of organizations on the Fair Trade Resource Networks’ website

*** Thanks to Fair Trade Vancouver for this overview

The Story Behind Fair Trade Kosher Chanukah Gelt

I Recently returned from a wonderful week of Jewish community and learning at the National Havurah Institute. As I was preparing for a workshop I taught on community investing (a project from earlier in my work life), I found a connection with the fair trade world, bringing together two of my passions!

It turns out that Oikocredit is one of the world’s largest sources of private funding in the microfinance sector. They also provide credit to trade cooperatives, fair trade organizations and small to medium enterprises in the developing world.

Kuapa Kukoo, now a cooperative comprised of more than 45,000 cacao farmers in Ghana, was formed In the 1990’s. Over the years, it grew into Divine Chocolate, Ltd in England, the only farmer-owned chocolate company in the world. Sufficient profit was made that the farmers in the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative began to receive dividends beginning in 2007. In addition, the fair trade premium pad for cocoa is used to construct and improve drinking water wells, primary schools, and other community projects decided by the farmers themselves.

When Divine Chocolate decided to enter the U.S. chocolate market in 2006, Oikocredit stepped forward with investments in the new division as well as a line of credit. In the past 5 years, Divine US has become a significant player in the fair trade chocolate market, including being the largest provider of Fair Trade Kosher Chanukah gelt!

New Fair Trade Principles

The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), the international network of organizations (those making Judaica products, not food products) demonstrating a 100% Fair Trade commitment, recently published a detailed description of their “Ten Principles of Fair Trade“.

These include:

– Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers

– Transparency and Accountability

– Fair Trading Practices

– Payment of a Fair Price

– Ensuring no Child Labor or Forced Labor

– Commitment to Non-Discriminatin, Gender Equity and Freedom of Association

– Ensuring Good Working Conditions

– Providing Capacity Building

– Promoting Fair Trade

– Respect for the Environment

Chocolate Need Not be Bittersweet

I haven’t been quite the same since I watched “The Dark Side of Chocolate” DVD last September at the international fair trade conference in Boston. I had heard that children were involved in harvesting cocoa, the same cocoa that makes the chocolate bars that I love in my s’mores every summer. But who wants to believe that chocolate could be so bittersweet in that way?

The Movie documents Danish journalist, Miki Mistrati’s journey to Cote d’Ivoire to investigate these allegations. And what you see on the screen is quite disturbing. Not only are children working in the cocoa fields, but many are trafficked there, working involuntarily, and in hazardous conditions.

One moment your heart is broken, then inspired by the courage of others trying to stop the trafficking. And then outraged, when the chocolate company executives solidly deny these claims, even though Mistrati has captured all this on film.

Last September I brought home a copy of the DVD, part of the Raise the Bar Hershey campaign, inspired to spread the word. Fair Trade Judaica has developed an entire resource section called “Bean of Affliction: Chocolate, Child Labor, and Choosing Fair Trade“, which provides background information, ideas for raising this issue at Passover seder, and campaigns to promote fair trade chocolate (including Kosher for Passover chocolate!).

And since last September when I saw “The Dark Side of Chocolate”, I have only purchased Fair Trade chocolate – even the dark chocolate tastes sweet!

The Crisis of Cotton: How Fair Trade Responds to Rising Costs

Artisan Lila preparing cotton thread for her loom.

If you haven’t heard already, you will soon feel it in your wallet. Rising cotton prices due to a global cotton scarcity, as well as the rise in production and labor costs are affecting the worldwide textile industry. In the last year, the world witnessed devastating natural disasters from the floods throughout Asia, Australia, and the United States. In addition, apparel market prices have not increased to keep up with the real cost of production. Many of us will see a 10-15% increase in the cost of clothing. From larger textile manufacturers, to small fair trade importers, companies are looking for alternative materials to continue production in the developing world. For fair trade companies, continuing sustainable partnerships is key to economic justice for artisans.

MayaWorks, a nonprofit fair trade organization working with approximately 125 indigenous artisans in Guatemala, has also been affected by the rise in cotton prices. MayaWorks’ artisans rely on high quality AZO-free cotton threads for the majority of their fair trade products. Many companies have discontinued cotton thread production due to the volatility of the market. Because it is our goal to provide steady, sustainable and fair work for our artisan partners, MayaWorks is responding with creative solutions.

MayaWorks is responding to the crisis by creating strategic short and long term production solutions in partnership with Guatemalan staff and artisans. When our major supplier shut its doors, Guatemalan staff immediately looked for other local thread cooperatives. Still, this is only a short term solution and cotton prices continue to increase. MayaWorks staff in the US and Guatemala have begun to collaborate with local design companies to source natural, reusable, and eco-friendly materials available in Guatemala. These materials include jute, recycled cotton, and natural seeds for jewelry. We have also met with local talent, including design consultants and university students. Other solutions include discontinuing production of larger, less popular woven items, and investing in smaller, functional products.

Other fair trade companies like Greenola are facing similar challenges. Jennifer Moran, owner of Greenola, sources fashionable, fair trade and eco-friendly products from South America. “We were unable to sell our REALLY popular cotton crocheted scarves as the price would have doubled!” In reaction to the global cotton scarcity, Greenola is focusing on smaller accessories and jewelry. They are also training partner cooperatives to learn new skills such as sewing, so that they have other types of work and focusing on products made of alpaca. Artisans are focusing on simpler designs, staying away from high detail, labor intensive items.

Sustainable Threads is a fair trade company working with artisans in India. Harish and his producer groups have also faced difficulty as much of their products are made with organically certified cotton. “Not only are the prices of cotton going up but also the labor costs for production are increasing at the same time.” “We plan to discontinue [some products]. In some cases we have reduced the design work on the product, so the prices are still workable to sell in the US market.” Sustainable Threads is also planning on working with recycled materials and products.

Fair trade companies will need to respond to this situation quickly, and look for alternative materials that are more eco-friendly and sustainable. There is no telling when the cotton crisis will subside, but many forecasters are predicting a difficult year ahead.

Written by Naomi Czerwinskyj, MayaWorks Product Manager

Start 2011 with a Fair Trade Calendar

With 2011 just around the corner, I‘ve been looking for the right calendar to hang in my office – something beautiful and inspiring. Usually I choose scenes from nature, a good balance to the mental thinking I do when I’m working.

This year, I’ll be purchasing the Fair Trade 2011 Calendar, featuring stunning photos of artisans and farmers which won the 2010 fair trade photo contest. What was most exciting to discover is that one of the months features a photo of MayaWorks’ artisans from San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala actually crocheting their beautiful Kippot/Yamulkes!

The full color 13.5″ x 9.5″ calendar is printed on environmentally friendly New Leaf paper using earth-friendly printing processes.

And every month you’re introduced to a group of hard working artisans and farmers who create beautiful crafts or grow the coffee, cocoa, tea, and more that we depend on, and in return, are guaranteed a living wage, safe working conditions, and enough profits to send their children to school, build health clinics, or install safe drinking water.

What better way to be inspired each day?

FTJ at the Fair Trade Futures Conference!

Fair Trade Futures ConferenceSo exciting to be at the Fair Trade Futures Conference, joining over 780 fair trade artisans, farmers, advocates, retailers, and wholesalers from around the globe. It was inspiring to be among so many people committed to a fair trade world based on transparency, respect, and justice, as well as a willingness to self-critique where the movement may be falling short.

The stars of the conference were the farmers and artisans who came from South America, Africa, and Asia to tell their personal stories. It was the first opportunity for many of us to meet them directly, and there was strong support for their voices to be heard more loudly within the certification process.

Fair Trade Judaica was the only visible Jewish presence at the conference, and we were greeted with much support and enthusiasm, and many opportunities for collaboration. There was a lot of interest in developing the fair trade Judaica niche.

One of the highlights was being able to speak directly with artisans and fair trade organizations about creating new fair trade Judaica products – lots of interest in helping us build the movement. Keep your eyes open over the next year for these new Judaica products:

  • Wire and bead kippahs for women from Guatemala
  • Small wooden dreidels from India
  • Beautiful baskets made from recycled metal
  • Bracelets made from recycled paper in Africa