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Fair Trade Month kicks off in diocese

By JOANNE FOX, Globe editor
(Email Joanne)

Bernadette Rixner wants you to think the next time you buy something.

“People should realize that purchasing is a moral – not simply an economic – act,” she said. “Pope Benedict XVI said as much in his encyclical, ‘Charity in Truth.’ And I think that’s why many Catholics have embraced the fair trade movement.”

October is designated as Fair Trade Month and for those who might think “fair trade” has something to do with purchases at a county fair, the term describes the organized social movement whose goal is to help producers in developing countries achieve better trading conditions and to promote sustainability, explained Rixner, who is chair of the peace and justice committee at Blessed Sacrament Church in Sioux City and a member of the Diocesan Peace and Justice Commission.

“While most people know that fair trade products provide the farmer or artisan with a fairer price for their work, they might not know that the groups that are committed to fair trade work to develop a relationship with the producers and their communities,” she said. “These relationships are based on most of the themes of Catholic social teaching, including respecting human dignity, the dignity of work, solidarity, a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable, care for creation and the rights of people to participate.”

Rixner’s hope is for Catholics to more broadly embrace fair trade practices individually and at their parishes.

“It’s important that people find a way to use fair trade in their buying and to use their parishes to promote fair trade items,” she said. “People like options when they are purchasing things and if we can show them better choices that benefit others. Catholics like that.”

Rixner received training in March from Catholic Relief Services, the official international humanitarian agency of the United States Council of Catholic Bishops. With this training held in Chicago, Rixner became a Catholic Relief Services Fair Trade Ambassador.

The training benefited volunteers who encourage others in their parishes, workplaces and community to act in global solidarity, participate in fair trade marketplace and other programs of CRS, which works with about 18 fair trade groups to provide a variety of fair trade products.

Rixner has been involved with peace and justice for many years at Blessed Sacrament, including a CRS fair trade craft sale in her parish. That event will be held before and after the Mass on Nov. 15 and from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Nov. 16.

However, Rixner emphasized an individual need not limit fair trade purchases to parish fairs or through online offerings.

“Many retailers embrace fair trade practices,” she said. “Next time you visit Starbucks or McDonald’s, ask a manager if their coffee comes from a fair trade relationship. It’s surprising how many do.”

For those who may question if participating in fair trade practices really matters, Rixner had an answer.

“The reason it matters is that, for example, the people who grow the coffee get paid a bit more than others because of free trade practices,” she explained. “Often, that bit of extra money can go to their community to perhaps buy a truck or build a school. It’s more than just growing and harvesting. It’s all about sustainability.”
Ultimately, this reinforces the dignity of human work and it certainly is not a handout, Rixner stressed.

“As Catholics, we should not be concerned about just buying whatever is the cheapest,” she said. “The idea of fair trade is building relationships with others to help them create sustainable communities. Certainly, what they may be receiving for their product is a fair price, but often it’s not living wage and it may not allow them to grow their enterprise.”

Rixner noted Blessed Sacrament also hosts a coffee once a month during the school year with fair trade items.

“There are also community orders that could be sent in from a catalogue, something like a jewelry home party, in which free shipping and discounts are available,” she said.

Although most people may associate fair trade with coffee and chocolates, Rixner pointed out clothing and accessories are also for sale and benefit other endeavors.

“For example, jute bag profits go to fight human trafficking,” she said. “In essence, all of this is an effort to reduce poverty. Fair trade is just a wonderful connection to help others.”

If parishes or individuals want more information about starting CRS programs, fair trade information or other peace and justice projects, contact Rixner at (712) 258-7855 or email at scdpandj@aol.com. There is information online at www.scdiocese.org/peaceandjustice and crs.fairtrade.org.

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