(Photo: Trade as One)
A faith-based trade organization believes that consumers can save the developing world with their spending habits this Christmas season.
Nathan George, the co-founder and CEO of Trade as One, said that he's always seen a fine line between Christian belief and international business. His organization now oversees a worldwide mission to place impoverished people in long-term, productive jobs making products valued by first world buyers.
"We set this up to be a tool for the church in America to engage their spending power on behalf of the global poor," said George, who founded the company in 2006 with his wife, Catherine. "Charity does not fix poverty. The only thing that does is sustainable, dignified jobs, and those are created by enterprise."
George said that the concept of "fair trade" is the cornerstone of Trade as One's business model. Fair trade finds skilled workers in the developing world and pairs them with steady employment and access to international markets for their products. In Trade as One's case, workers in Asia, Africa and South America now create crafts ranging from candy to clothing and distribute them around the world for income.
"Fair trade is deliberately biased towards the inclusion of marginalized producers," George said. "It seeks to level the playing field for those without a voice or access to multiple markets."
Catherine, George's wife and the co-founder of their Santa Cruz, Calif. organization, said that the spending habits of the world's wealthy could drastically affect the fortunes of its poor. By buying the products they want or need through fair trade, she said such consumers could close the gap between the haves and have-nots.
"Our spending can be used to fix problems rather than creating them," Catherine said. "Much progress has been made in reducing poverty, most notably in Asia, but the scale and depth of the problem could still be called a crisis in many parts of the world."
The extreme poverty of the developing world, Catherine continued, marked an important opportunity for sharing the divine overseas. Citing the Gospel's focus on Christ's compassion, empathy and generosity, she said that shoppers should try their best to shelter the needy during the holiday season.
"The teachings of Jesus underpin all that Trade as One does," Catherine said. "It began because of the belief that Christ makes a difference in all our lives. That includes our spending and our view of what following Christ means in terms of bringing hope and dignity to those the world often overlooks."
Renee Bowers, executive director of D.C.'s Fair Trade Federation, said her group counted Trade as One among its 280 members in the wholesale and retail markets. Fair trade facilitates global harmony, she said, by letting talented producers transport the fruits of their labors to far-away places that both desire and pay for them.
"Fair trade appeals to me as it offers the opportunity to make a concrete difference in the lives of some very talented craftspeople," Bowers said. "We live in an increasingly consumerist society. As responsible members of that society, it is important to support those who don't have access to jobs or support for their families."