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Fair trade businesses are showcased at the 222nd General Assembly

Global Marketplace is open for business

by Rick Jones | Presbyterian News Service

PORTLAND – Where can you go to find crosses made from recycled car parts, jewelry created from rain forest seeds, or a good cup of coffee that supports farmers seeking to provide a better life for their families? If you are attending the 222nd General Assembly in Portland, you need only go as far as the exhibit hall.

The Global Marketplace has been a staple of General Assembly gatherings for more than 10 years. It provides an opportunity for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to lift up the idea of fair trade and make connections with organizations working to improve the lives of farmers, artisans and others who seek to live sustainable, productive lives.

Handcrafted items such as scarves, jewelry and clothing are available along with chocolates and coffee.

Attendees to the 222nd General Assembly have opportunities to support fair trade with crafts and other products in the Global Marketplace, a popular attraction at each General Assembly. Photo by Rick Jones.

Attendees to the 222nd General Assembly have opportunities to support fair trade with crafts and other products in the Global Marketplace, a popular attraction at each General Assembly. Photo by Rick Jones.

Café Justo was launched to help coffee farmers in Mexico provide a decent living and give them control over every aspect of the coffee business from farming and harvesting to packaging and marketing.

“One of the unique things about Café Justo is its proactive response to issues of immigration. It makes so much sense whether you are on the left or the right of the immigration issue,” said Dan Abbott, a Café Justo volunteer. “Someone who doesn’t cross the border into the U.S. but stays to provide a living for their family is the kind of person you want to encourage. It creates opportunities for people to choose to stay home.”

Pal Craftaid is a non-profit business that imports Palestinian olivewood work from fairly paid artisans in the occupied territories.

“Many of those attending General Assembly who are familiar with us will come looking for us at each gathering,” said Carol Hylkema with Pal Craftaid. “A lot of people come here because they get things they can’t get anywhere else and as a result, more and more people become aware of what’s going on and are more understanding of Palestinians.”

Wendy Farmerie is a proprietor of The Silk Road Fair Trade Market that sells scarves and other items. A former international buyer, Farmerie was motivated to start the business after traveling overseas and seeing the health risks faced by workers in a Bangkok glass factory.

“As we were walking through the factory, we came across a woman staining platters in a massive drum of blue paint,” she said. “She would dip the glassware into this vat of paint and dye. Stained from her fingers to her shoulder, I knew there was a high lead content in that vat that would eventually kill her.”

Farmerie uses the Global Marketplace to provide hand-crafted products that will help support families like this. She also sees it as an opportunity to educate people about the challenges workers face in other countries where health standards and fair wages are not honored or recognized.

Colores del Pueblo provides hand-crafted purses, scarves, clothes and clerical stoles from Myan women in Guatamala.

“The biggest benefit we have seen is that these women have become major breadwinners in their family,” said Deborah Brown. “They want to see their daughters go to school, be able to read and write and have a career.”

“We have chocolate so that always brings them to the booth. A lot of groups we work with come by to say hello and tell us how our programs are going at their church,” said Bethany Karbowski with Equal Exchange, a pioneer in fair trade, selling coffee, chocolate, dried fruits and more. “A lot of them serve our coffee during fellowship hour as part of their individual fundraising projects.”

Equal Exchange was launched 30 years ago and works with partners around the world including Africa, South America, Peru and India among others.  This marks the 15-year anniversary of the partnership between the PC(USA) and Equal Exchange.

Women of the Cloud Forest has provided opportunities for artisans in Nicaragua and Costa Rica to get their products marketed in ways they could never have imagined. The artisans create jewelry and hand-embroidered bags from seeds found in the rain forests. Consumers can also buy crafted crosses and figurines made from recycled car engine parts.

“Their communities are saturated with ceramic artisans and there is little tourism there and little opportunity to market their products,” said Amy Kofmehl-Sobkowiak who founded the fair trade business along with her husband 16 years ago. “People are scrambling to find ways to make ends meet. For us it is important to build these sustainable relationships with our artisan partners and help them build sustainable orders each month so they can anticipate income and make decisions for the household.”

Other businesses include Partners for Just Trade and Friends of She.

“The Presbyterian Hunger Program is so thankful to be able to provide the option of shopping fair trade at the General Assembly,” said Jessica Maudlin, associate for the Presbyterian Hunger Program’s Enough for Everyone. “It’s wonderful to have a space here that allows Presbyterians to use their purchasing in ways that honor the lives and dignity of artisans around the world.”

Click here for more information about the Fair Trade Program.

Gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing help support the Presbyterian Hunger Programs efforts.

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