ROCHESTER — Jorge Yacila walked through his store, Coqui’s Journey, and pointed out the fair-trade products that can be found around his colorful shop.
He said that he is especially proud of a section housing candles made by children in Peru who are rescued from life on the streets by an organization called Mundo de Ni√±os, based in Huanchaco. According to the nonprofit association’s brochure, the group takes in children between the ages of 7 and 13 who are found living on the streets and educates, houses and helps set them on a path leading to a better life. A native of nearby Trujillo, Yacila said that the boys often are addicted to sniffing glue and have behavioral problems.
“They will not have a good future if they stay that way,” he said. “Hopefully, they become more productive citizens.”
Yacila said that some other fair-trade products he sells support a Brazilian organization, the Pinocchio Project, which offers teenagers training in woodcraft. The youths then create unique wooden boxes out of scrap materials.
He said that his desire to support fair trade stems from his family and his Catholic upbringing. His sister helps him offer fair-trade goods by searching for artisans and organizations to support in their native Peru.
“I’ve seen poverty firsthand,” said Yacila, a former Xerox engineer. “Helping someone else is such a good feeling.”
Several local shops sell fair-trade goods as a way to support organizations in their native countries and to offer products created by artisans in developing countries. They include Peruvian Style in Pittsford and Coffee Connection on South Avenue. Other organizations sell products that support programs for the poor in other countries, including Equal Exchange operated by Catholic Relief Services, which also sells fairly traded chocolate goods, said Marvin Mich, director of social policy and research for Rochester’s Catholic Family Center. Christmas cards from the Holy Childhood Association, a Pontifical Mission Society, are available on its Web site and support the church’s outreach, according to the Rochester Diocese’s Society for Propagation of the Faith.
According to information from Catholic Relief Services, exports from artisans are on the decline. The agency oversees a Fair Trade Network and is encouraging holiday purchases from these artisans as well as from A Greater Gift’s Work of Human Hands catalog, which offers items produced by 90 groups in more than 30 countries.
While some people may consider it a nice gesture to buy fair-trade products at Christmastime, it is a practice that should become more common year round, said Gail Mott, who with husband, Peter, created the INTERCONNECT newsletter in the 1990s about Central and Latin American issues. The couple also helped create the Latin American Solidarity Coalition in 2000 to focus more on public policy.
“We’re all part of a shrinking world where we know what is happening in sweatshops and with slave labor,” Mott said. “We know in our own country of the unacceptable conditions of farmworkers and other migrant laborers. Buying (fairly) traded products and foods is a way of saying ‘yes’ to making the lopsided economics of this world a little more equitable.”
How we shop and even eat is considered a moral act, added Mich, and the fair-trade model is a response to all the information that’s been revealed in recent years about unjust working conditions created by the need for cheap, mass production.
“We can guarantee that these products are not produced in sweat shops or factories and that the workers get a just wage for their work,” he said. “It’s a significant guarantee if you are concerned where your clothing and appliances and coffee come from.”
While such purchases can be more costly, in a 1993 encyclical on labor, Pope John Paul II wrote about consumers as indirect employers to connect them to workers globally, Mich added.
“Certainly, it can cost more financially,” he noted. “But the moral side of the argument is: How would we want workers to be treated? Do we want them to be paid a just wage? ‚Ä¶ It reminds us of the dignity of workers (who) should not be exploited.”
Consumers also need to think of themselves as members of an increasingly more global society, where purchases in the United States do have a direct positive impact on artisans in developing countries, said Elaine Johnson, president of the board of directors of One World Goods.
She recounted how at a conference two basket weavers from Uganda told her how important fair trade is to them.
“They were very open in saying that they just rely on it so much,” Johnson said. “It is so important for them to be able to sell to the fair traders. Because when they don’t get enough orders they have to sell to a (store chain) or whoever and they’re not going to make as much money.”
Johnson said often people have a misconception that fair trade means if one buys a product for $5, half of that money would go to the artisan. In practice, fair trade means that a vendor is buying the artisans’ products for a just wage, she added.
One World Goods — which has been in operation for 10 years and has blossomed from a group of women in the 1980s selling out of boxes at Downtown Presbyterian Church and later the Motts’ home — buys some of its products from such organizations as 10,000 Villages and SERRV International, Johnson said. These organizations often help artisans develop cooperatives, which allows them to pool their resources and save money to build health clinics or schools and to send their children to school, she said.
“Another part of the economic justice of fair trade is to ensure to the best of their abilities that artisans are treated with fairness and respect and help them to develop things in their community that ‚Ä¶ add quality to their lives,” she added.
To keep its operation costs down, Johnson said the shop only has a few managers, and its sales staff comes from a pool of 100 volunteers.
On a smaller scale, some of the sales in Gladys Noriega’s Peruvian Style shop in the Village of Pittsford help a small group of women in her native Peru that includes her sister. The venture began as a way to help her sister pay for her chemotherapy treatment, Noriega said. Originally, she sold items online, she added.
But Noriega said her dream was always to open her own shop. Having been able to do that three months ago while also being able to help a group of Peruvian seamstresses is beyond what she thought possible, she added.
“My sisters and her friends ‚Ä¶ have few resources,” Noriega said. “I pay them a just wage. I try to sell (products) at a fair price. In reality, I did not start this business to make myself rich. I want to make a living — and help other people.”