Left Justified: Five years of selling fairly

Stanley Campbell

By Stanley Campbell

JustGoods fair trade store is celebrating its fifth year this Thursday, Oct. 27, beginning at 7 p.m. You are welcome to learn more about fair trade.

JustGoods is at 201 Seventh St. The development of this site from a former notorious liquor store was controversial from the start. Rockford Urban Ministries (for which I work) was accused of planning a “church thrift store,” and we wanted a drug-counseling center at the gateway to Seventh Street. But miracles occurred! Volunteers helped rehab the building, which was transformed into a beautiful gift shop and meeting space, all nonprofit and all professionally run.

Help us celebrate the staff and volunteers. Holly Schmidt, JustGoods’ assistant manager and lead buyer, will introduce staff and special volunteers who keep the store running.

JustGoods will stay open for late-night shopping pleasure. We’ve invited Robert S. Chase, president of SERRV International, to speak about the history of the fair-trade movement and why it is the fastest-growing segment of the economy. We’ll serve fair-trade coffee, chocolates, cashews and teas.

SERRV is one of the oldest fair-trade development organizations. Bob Chase was a Peace Corps volunteer in Brazil working on international development with Church World Service (the CROP Hunger Walk people). He then operated a fair-trade store in Appleton, Wis., before joining SERRV. Bob is secretary of the U.S. Fair Trade Federation and was treasurer of the International Fair Trade Association, so he should have great stories to tell. He’s a recipient of the National Council of Christians and Jews Brotherhood Award.

I asked Bob to share his latest thoughts: The Alternative Trade Movement (now known as fair trade) was started in the U.S. 60 years ago to reduce poverty in developing countries by providing fair pay and a market for struggling artisans and farmers.

For many years, it was a niche movement made up of well-intentioned individuals working through religious communities who sold at church holiday fairs and nonprofit fair trade shops.

The movement gained momentum in the 1980s in Europe with a certification system for coffee and fair-trade goods. Though the U.S. lagged behind Europe, sales accelerated rapidly after 2000. Increasing sales of fair-trade products benefited millions of low-income people, but the greatest contribution is raising consumer awareness that changes how large commercial businesses do business. Consumers now expect businesses to treat their employees, consumers, suppliers and the environment in an ethical manner.

But as the fair-trade movement has grown and become mainstream, disagreements have developed about its values, goals and appropriate role in a global economy rocked by recession and rapid change.

We must keep the movement on track and continue to meaningfully impact the lives of poor people, not simply use it to increase sales and profitability. Bob’s organization SERRV markets under the A Greater Gift brand and distributes more than 1 million catalogs to conscientious consumers. Items are available at JustGoods, which will be open for the program. Of course, it is free and open to the public.

Fair-traded gifts include pottery, baskets, Christmas ornaments, toys, clothes, even furniture, some made in the USA. You gotta see how beautiful the stuff is.

We have volunteers to help sell fair-trade items at churches, businesses, or in homes, and I want to publicly thank everyone who made this happen here on Seventh Street.

Stanley Campbell is executive director of Rockford Urban Ministries and spokesman for Rockford Peace & Justice.

From the Oct. 19-25, 2011, issue

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