By Rachelle Lyndaker Schlabach
On a trip to Puerto Rico in 1946, Edna Ruth Byler noted the lovely handicrafts being made by women artisans. She came home and began selling their products out of the trunk of her car. Her work eventually developed into what is now known as Ten Thousand Villages.
This was the humble beginning of the global fair trade movement. Today, fair trade sales of Ten Thousand Villages and like-minded organizations top $4 billion each year. The idea is simple: work directly with farmers and artisans to ensure they receive a fair, living wage for their products. This gives producers the added income they need to cover basic costs, such as sending their children to school.
Mennonite Central Committee U.S. has partnered with Equal Exchange to encourage the purchase of fair trade coffee. More than 200 Mennonite congregations have already signed up to make sure that their coffee hour every Sunday morning fairly benefits coffee farmers around the world. Learn more.
The steadily increasing number of fair trade sales is encouraging and makes a real difference in the lives of many people. But it is still a small percentage of all of the trade happening worldwide. In 2008, nearly $16 trillion worth of merchandise was traded on the world market, according to the World Trade Organization.
Because of this, it is crucial that while holding a mug of fairly traded coffee in one hand, we use our other hand to write a letter to Congress asking for fairer trade rules for everyone.
On Sunday, April 25, we are encouraging congregations across the United States to do just that. This will be the final Sunday of our year-long campaign calling for “Abundant Life: Economic Justice for All.” We hope many churches will choose to pray, reflect and act on that day for trade which prioritizes the common good.
In this issue Theo Sitther writes about ways to make U.S. trade, which until now has strongly favored U.S. companies, more just. We also hear about how trade and economic policies made the impact of Haiti’s earthquake even more severe. Tammy Alexander writes about how trade policies have forced some people to leave their homes.
On pages 10-11 you will find a sample letter to policymakers on trade justice, along with excerpts from the top essays in our high school essay contest.
We hope these resources will be helpful for you. And as always, we welcome your feedback.