Nov 5, 2018

Fair Trade Coffee Resolution - Passed!

This past weekend, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts passed a resolution I offered encouraging
the exclusive use of fair trade coffee at all church events. Shockingly, the bishop allowed me to speak into a live microphone to present the resolution and it passed overwhelmingly.

The point of the resolution was not to compel parishes to serve fair trade coffee, but rather to offer a moral imperative based on Christian values to do so. For me, after visiting Central American coffee farms while on sabbatical earlier this year, this has become an issue of economic and social justice.

It was also meant to highlight a partnership between Episcopal Relief & Development and Massachusetts' own Equal Exchange, whereby for every pound of fair trade coffee sold, 15 cents is donated to ER-D.

I've blogged about this issue in the past and shared a list of authentic fair trade coffee companies. This is a complicated issue where some corporations have attempted to use the fair trade label for marketing purposes. There are also independent coffee shops that don't sell coffee labeled as fair trade but, through relationships with farmers, everyone is earning a fair wage for their labor. The key is to ask questions and then use your purchasing power to align with your values.

As I said in presenting the resolution, "Jesus reminds us again and again that small things, like purchasing a cup of coffee that lifts the burden of exploitation, are just as important as grand gestures. It's why he tells his disciples that faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains; it's why he washes feet and cooks breakfast and interacts with children. Small gestures serve as windows into our souls, while offering hope to a broken world."

Below is the full text of the resolution. My hope is that other dioceses and denominations across the country will use this resolution in their own context to raise both awareness and the economic conditions for the millions of small farmers in the coffee producing countries of the global south.

If I can help you move this forward in any way, please don't hesitate to be in touch. I'm hoping the resolution we passed is just the start.

The Use of Fair Trade Coffee at All Church Events

Submitted by: The Rev. Tim Schenck, The Rt. Rev. Bud Cederholm, The Very Rev. Amy McCreath, The Rev. Diane Wong, The Rev. Sarah Brockmann, The Rev. Jeff Mello, The Rev. Deborah Warner, The Rev. Phil LaBelle, The Rev. Suzanne Wade, The Rev. Beth Grundy, Mr. Rick Collins, Ms. Dawn Tesorero

that the 233rd Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts calls upon all congregations, ministries and diocesan bodies to use fair trade coffee at all church events; and be it further

that the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts be encouraged to support goals of the fair trade coffee movement, which include: raising income levels of small-scale farmers
and farm workers; more equitably distributing economic gains across the industry; encouraging environmentally sound and sustainable farming methods; promoting ethical working conditions; and increasing consumer awareness of the economic forces affecting farmers and the exploitation of workers.

Coffee has long been an integral aspect of hospitality and fellowship in our communities and fuels much church business. This resolution encourages parishes, missions, chaplaincies and our diocese to commit to the exclusive use of fairly traded coffee. While fair trade coffee costs slightly more (generally only 3 or 4 cents more per cup), we feel this is an investment in thousands of unseen people in the $100-billion global coffee industry, in which 80% of the world’s coffee is produced by 17.7 million small-scale farmers, often living well below the poverty line.

The goals of the fair trade movement are consistent with the Christian faith, and this resolution reveals a small but impactful way our purchases can better reflect our Christian values in the global economy. Fairly traded products help make our sisters and brothers on the other side of the supply chain more visible to us, connecting us to the people behind the products we enjoy, while rejecting child labor and economic slavery through debt peonage. Fair trade coffee is also organic – grown without chemical fertilizers or pesticides – and of higher quality, which improves taste, positively impacting the impression made on visitors and newcomers.

Our denomination has already made access to fair trade coffee both easy and affordable through a partnership between Episcopal Relief & Development and Massachusetts' own Equal Exchange. 
In addition to facilitating easy ordering and providing quality products, when congregations join the partnership (which is free), 15 cents is donated to Episcopal Relief & Development's General Fund for every pound of fairly traded products purchased.

Statements Against
  1. Fair trade coffee costs more per pound and would place an undue burden on economically struggling parishes.
  2. Navigating the world of fair trade coffee is complicated, and some corporate entities have sought to co-opt and dilute its impact.
Implementation Requirements
The resolution’s submitters are prepared to make resources available, including the results of their research and other information they’ve gathered, as well as to assist diocesan staff in disseminating gathered information to parish vestries and other local ministry leaders who are interested in exploring fair trade coffee options for their particular ministry settings.

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