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People shop for values at Fair Trade Fair
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People shop for values at Fair Trade Fair

Event links purchases with fight against human trafficking

Representing Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown are, from left, Sister Mary Beth, Karen Cunico, Julia Pallone, and Clare Cahir.     
Representing Villa Walsh Academy in Morristown are, from left, Sister Mary Beth, Karen Cunico, Julia Pallone, and Clare Cahir.     

On April 3, dozens of people shopped for goods made by artisans from around the world — and through their purchases joined the fight against human trafficking.

The Fair Trade Fair, sponsored by the New Jersey Coalition Against Human Trafficking and National Council of Jewish Women-West Morris Section — a coalition member — was held at the Student Center of the County College of Morris in Randolph.

Some 20 vendors purveyed everything from handwoven scarves and aprons made from old clothing to beaded hanukkiot in the shape of elephants and crocodiles. All the goods were made by artisans who are paid a fair wage under fair working conditions.

Susan Neigher, NCJW West Morris president, organized the event “to help people know their purchase makes a difference…in not supporting slavery and in supporting a living wage for workers.” 

Neigher, a Chester resident, is also a member of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ’s Community Relations Committee, which coordinates the coalition.

Guest speaker Sarah Barasch-Hagans, a student at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pa., and a rabbinic intern from T’ruah: Rabbis for Human Rights, spoke to a group of about 70 of the shoppers of her and her group’s efforts in support of workers’ rights. 

“Fair trade has a specific and important role to play in ending human trafficking,” she said. Although forced sex work gets more media attention, it accounts for only 25 percent of human trafficking, she said. The rest is made up largely of child soldiers, laborers, and field workers who are forced to live in harsh conditions and are subject to perpetual wage theft and sexual harassment. Some, Barasch-Hagans said, are even being “locked into U-Hauls at night” by exploitative bosses to prevent their flight.

This pressing concern is a Jewish issue, she said. “T’ruah tries to work on issues that need Jewish support” and don’t visibly have it, Barasch-Hagans said; striving for the freedom of today’s “slave workers,” she said, is a call to all Jews that particularly resonates during this season. “Because Passover and the Exodus are such a big part of our Jewish narrative, it is a natural fit for T’ruah’s support.”

Barasch-Hagans explained T’ruah’s support for the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in south Florida. The town of Immokalee expands exponentially every year when migrant workers come to stay for the tomato harvest in the Fort Myers area. Workers banded together to start the movement in 1993 after working conditions became intolerable. Since human trafficking and slavery often result from market pressure for lower prices, Barasch-Hagans said, workers recruited supermarkets to sign their Fair Food Agreement, which states they will not buy from suppliers who fail to provide workers adequate working conditions such as shade and ready access to water. 

Over the course of more than 20 years, the Immokalee Workers have secured agreements from many grocery chains and fast food outlets, including Wal-Mart and Chipotle; they are currently supporting a boycott of Wendy’s as the corporation has so far refused to sign the agreement. “Fair trade empowers economies and farmers,” Barasch-Hagans said.

Child labor is an especially problematic aspect of human trafficking, specifically in the sourcing of cacao to make chocolate: Barasch-Hagans told of children as young as five working in cacao fields in Africa, prevented from attending school, and doing the same strenuous work as adults with dangerous, sharp tools. 

She encouraged customers to buy only those products with a fair trade label to join the fight against abolishment of onerous child labor, to ensure gender equity in work situations, and to further efforts to secure fair wages for workers. 

To further those aims, NCJW had a table selling fair trade chocolate bars that were kosher for Passover, as well as fair trade coffee.

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