Social Justice: November 2008 Archives

Sweatshop Free Crafting and Art

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by Mama-Lu

Wandering around the aisles of craft stores dreaming of projects used to be my idea of a great afternoon out. When I decided to chase the sweatshop-free dream, suddenly the aisles went from tempting to depressing.

It would be so easy to snatch up lots of fun, cheap supplies and create items for sale, but the "Made in China" label puts a damper on those ideas. In the end that's a good thing. I do not need a reason to buy more stuff, and buying things that might be more expensive keeps my purchases limited. The real temptation is to increase my Etsy shop profit by using sweatshop products. At the same time, every time I type "This is a sweatshop free product" it makes me feel like I can make a difference.

Honestly, yarn sources are not too bad. Beads for rosaries on the other hand is a little tricky. I did find beautiful beads from fair trade sources like Happy Mango Beads and Kazuri West, but these would send the cost of a rosary well beyond my price range. I could also buy from the Czech Republic, since they make beautiful beads and as members of the EU have trust worthy labor laws. In the end I ordered from American Woodcrafters Supply Co.

I am still a long way from being sweatshop-free in everything, but crafting is one area I am doing pretty well, even for the kids. Despite the distance I still have to travel, the more labels I read, the more committed I am to doing better.

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Fair Trade Coffee

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by Mama-Lu

There's fair trade coffee and then there's fair trade coffee.

In our house we do not use "Fair Trade Certified" coffee beans. "Fair Trade Certified" is a relatively new group of programs and they have their flaws. The most significant one being the cost to certify. Farmers have to pay inspectors to certify their farms, and the same goes for organic certification. So the farmer sees even less of his already small profits.

Instead we prefer to buy from small roasteries whose buyers investigate the farms themselves as part of the purchasing process. There is no extra cost for this, and the roasteries or buyers also get a chance to see in what way they might build up the communities in which the farms are located.

Here in Champaign, our own local Columbia Street Roastery is doing just that. So not only are we buying fair trade, but we are also supporting local business. It's a win-win. There are many other roasteries with practices like this; it just takes a little poking to find out what the companies values are.

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Fair Trade

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by Mama-Lu

October was Fair Trade month. All month I meant to put something up here about my thoughts on fair trade. Better late then never!

For some time I have been making a concerted effort to only purchase items that are sweat-shop/abuse free. The idea started with a simple question from our eldest, at the time 3 years old, "Who made my shoes?" The shoes came from Target and were made in China. My response was, "People working in a factory in China." The conversation continued with requests from him to visit China and see the factory where the shoes were made. Then we moved on, but in my mind I could not stop thinking about the "who" and the conditions under which that person worked.

In thinking about this person who suffered unknown injustices to make a pair of cheap shoes for my son, I felt complicit in their abuse. The obvious next step was to avoid this in the future. The question was and is, "How?"

So far, it has not been possible for me. Despite high ideals, I have all kinds of loop-holes and exceptions. Abuse of persons in the third world is frightenly common in our ordinary life. In our house two simple, yet significant, steps reduce participation in that abuse. First, we buy second hand as much as possible. The item's origin might have been a sweatshop, but our money is not supporting systemic abuse. Second we buy fair trade coffee and cocoa/chocolate. Coffee and cocoa are widely sold at prices that cannot support even remotely just practices. A few extra dollars for these luxuries prevents our money from driving a farmer deeper into debt or supporting the routine kidnapping of boys for labor.

These steps are not going to change the world, but they can bring about solidarity. We cannot avoid every level of abuse in our society. It is barely possible to avoid the abuses we are aware of let alone the ones of which we never even hear. Yet giving up and saying there is nothing that can be done is not an option for a person of conscience. Something must be done; something that says "I will not participate in the suffering of my brothers and sisters." These things are our small way of saying that. Hopefully, we will grow toward greater solidarity as we relearn how to shop.

Dorothy Day explained this much better than I ever could. I will try to locate her words on the subject and share them here, but until then I have a few more things to say on this subject, which I will save for another day.

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About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Social Justice category from November 2008.

Social Justice: May 2008 is the previous archive.

Social Justice: February 2009 is the next archive.

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