Faith-Based and Slave-Free

Many churches, temples and other faith-based organizations serve coffee, tea and cocoa to their attendants. Increasingly these groups want to see their consumer choices reflect a heart for justice and compassion, so many are turning to Fair Trade and other ethically grown products.

Why the switch?

Cocoa farms in West Africa grow most of the world’s chocolate, but are also infamous for using child slavery. Increasingly, these farms are also growing coffee that is blended in with major brands like Folgers and Maxwell House. And so it has become difficult to discern slave-free goods when buying normal coffee and cocoa.

But many religious groups do not even realize that some of their choices as consumers are funding child slavery and providing extremely low standards of living for farming communities. Surely any group that believes in a just and compassionate God will also want to abolish slavery and not support the enslavement of children with tithed money.

If your religious group or place of worship is interested in going slave-free, here are some tips for getting started:

  1. Define your goals.Not all slave-free products or companies that are supportive of local farming communities have to be Fair Trade. Many small co-ops avoid bureaucracy by not becoming Fair Trade certified, but often give religious groups better access to the farming communities, including allowing trips to visit the farms. Some co-ops will even let consumers donate bicycles and other needs to the farming communities throughout the year. Just make sure to do good research ahead of time about their employment policies.

    But if the goal is simply to get slave-free beverages instead of the usual drinks, then larger Fair Trade organizations might be the easiest programs to join.

  2. Ask around. Talk to other groups in your area who are already serving slave-free products. They will be able to give you a better idea of prices and introduce you to organizations already partnering with your area. They also might not even realize that their ethically traded products help to stop slavery!
  3. Look into your denomination or organization resources.Many groups already have partnerships with Fair Trade groups, including Jewish, Catholic, Presbyterian and Lutheran organizations.
  4. Make your members aware.Put a sign up letting people know why your group’s purchases are changing, and consider talking about it in the worship service or group meeting. Pray about these decisions together, and continue to pray for the co-op you have chosen even after you’ve made a decision. Ask congregants if they have any connections or advice.
  5. Consider faith-based Fair Trade Partnerships.One of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to serve slave-free products is to partner with a Fair Trade group like Equal Exchange that sells wholesale to religious organizations.
  6. Get creative.Are there other commodities your group uses or buys that might be purchased with a better care for the farmers or factory workers? Perhaps you should throw a slave-free bake sale, or buy event t-shirts from a better source.

    As your group starts to work out purchasing decisions with a more deliberate concern for abolition and justice around the world, it will hopefully become second nature to ask questions about the sources of your products.

These are just some ideas to help a group get started. There are countless organizations today working to end slavery and/or provide for the farmers who produce Western goods, and many other ways to start a partnership.

Join in!

What kind of coffee, tea and cocoa does your religious group or place of worship serve? Have you considered switching sources, if you haven’t already?

What keeps churches and other places of worship from prioritizing farming communities and children when purchasing products for their congregations?

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