Feature image by MayaWorks

The consumption of fair trade products are important on both a personal, local and global scale. Communities in Latin America are dependent on fair trade to support their families and prosper as a society. This Friday, October 28 GlobalFest, a benefit for Chicago Fair Trade is happening at the National Museum of Mexican Art.  Be sure to purchase your tickets and support a great organization. Also our good friends at 5 Rabbit will be serving their delicious brews. We talked to Martin Macias Jr. to talk about the organization, it’s impact on Chicago and our community.

What is the Mission of Chicago Fair Trade and and what products is it specifically advocating for?
Chicago Fair Trade is an organization working to increase support for workers and their families by advocating for Fair Trade and consumer education. Social and economic justice are pillars of this movement that works to support producers around the world through living wages, environmental sustainability and human rights. The campaign launched in May 2008.

You have several local partners and other shops around the city that are members to Chicago Fair Trade. What are some of the benefits they receive from joining the organization?
Fair Trade is a global movement that thrives when its many diverse members hold each other accountable and support each others growth. Locally it is the same. Chicago Fair Trade is supported by its business members who help build the movement across greater Chicagoland. Businesses get a boost from becoming members because they are part of a network that we promote. With their membership they subscribe to a set of internationalist values that are the foundation for Fair Trade – and in turn we give them access to events where they can promote their business, such as the annual Green Fest.

In February 2009 Chicago became a “Fair Trade City.” How was Chicago Fair Trade involved in advocating for this legislation?
In May 2008, Chicago Fair Trade consulted with 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore to draft a resolution to make Chicago a Fair Trade City. The criteria being that Chicago would have to have a certain number of outlets and institutions using and/or selling Fair Trade products. In September 2009 former Ald. Toni Preckwinkle introduced the resolution to the full City Council. After 22 Aldermen co-sponsored the resolution it eventually passed in February 2010. This task before us now is to use this official designation to guide business development and trade relations.

What are some of benefits of Chicago becoming a “Fair Trade City” both from an economic and a sustainability point of view?
The task before us now is to use this official designation to guide business development and trade relations throughout Chicago.The status of “Fair Trade City” does not bring about radical changes to the city’s purchasing policies or implement a city-wide call to action for people to change their behavior. We have to build towards that outcome. Moreover, we have to go beyond the products we buy and articulate the larger demand for fair and living wages for workers, environmental justice and dignity for all workers. There are many great groups in Chicago who have worked on these issues for years and we hope to connect with them to build a movement that is rooted in these Fair Trade principles.

What are some of your personal reasons for promoting the use of fair trade products and becoming involved with the cause?
I trust deeply in the words of great thinkers and activists who came before me such as Dr. Martin Luther King who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and I apply that to my view of the world. We cannot ignore the interconnectedness of the human family and our moral responsibility to create a better world so that each of us may prosper. Dr. King also writes, “we get our coffee from Costa Rica, bananas from Dominican Republic, tomatoes from California and teas fro India. By the time you’ve finished your breakfast this morning you’ll have relied on half the world.” He was talking about globalization and reminding us that we must think about the people who produced the things we consume everyday. Fair Trade reconnects us to producers and artisans and empowers consumers with information about how they can be part of a chain of production that isn’t unjust.

You have an annual benefit coming up this Friday October 28 and you are honoring a Bill Lame a teacher at Kelly High School. Can you tell us a bit about his work in the community and how it has influenced his students?
In 2003 Bill Lamme supported students who wanted to form a social justice club. They first organized around the issue of military recruitment of youth. Lamme and his students led counter recruitment projects such as movie screenings, scholarship information sessions and alternative career fairs. Later he helped rally undocumented students at Kelly and provided a space for them to reflect and organize each other. He connected the plight of immigrants to unjust global trade policies such as NAFTA. This naturally led to a conversation about Fair Trade and global justice. Since then the Social Justice club has partnered with Chicago Fair Trade on projects raising awareness about Fair Trade. I’ve had students confide to me that Bill is a truly inspirational figure to them. We are honoring him at Globalfest for his leadership in and outside the classroom.

What are some of the key recommendations for folks who don’t typically purchase fair trade products?
We have to think beyond just products and traditional consumer behavior. People should be linking fair trade to the global dreams of education and health for every child, sustainable communities, restoration of the land and biosphere, an economy rooted in commonwealth principles and so on. We have to reclaim the power we have as consumers. One example is the Local First Chicago campaign called “Unwrap Chicago” which asks people to shift $100 of planned holiday spending towards local businesses. This supports the local economy and keeps money flowing in the community instead of going to the pockets of “big-box” store owners. People should also know that there is a wide range of Fair Trade products. There’s chocolates, coffee, teas, apparel, artisan goods, grains, wines, olive oil and even sports balls!

How can youth get involved?
In June 2010 Chicago Fair Trade launched it’s education project, Fair Play, in order to engage Chicago high school students in conversations about trade justice and addressing global poverty. Students develop and lead their own projects in their schools and surrounding communities. We’ve helped organize soccer tournaments, movie screenings and even a fair trade fashion show! Check out the Fair Play Facebook page.

How can people become more involved?
Visit our website at www.chicagofairtrade.org. Becoming a member is quick and opens doors to exciting work and conversations about how to build the world we want to see. Email me for more info: martin.macias@chicagofairtrade.org

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