OGDEN -- Was the chocolate in your last chocolate bar produced through the use of child or slave labor? If it was fair trade certified, it wasn't.
Fair trade certification, issued by Fair Trade USA and Fairtrade International, ensures a product meets certain social, environmental and economic standards. Purchasing fair trade products helps people in developing countries improve their lives and their communities.
That's where Congregational United Church of Christ comes in. For the past 15 years, Caroline Somer, church treasurer and chairwoman of the Board of Deacons, has organized the church's International Fair Trade Handcraft Sale.
The church makes no money off the sale, and Somer said they consider the annual sale a mission project.
"We knew that the organization called SERRV International was working with churches to help them put on sales like this," Somer said. "They offer consignment as well as wholesale arrangements, and they have wonderful catalogs of saleable goods, and they're all good-quality."
Somer said SERRV began in the wake of World War II as a mission project by the Church of the Brethren to help survivors and refugees in Europe recover from the devastation of war.
"The concept was that they would help them bring their goods to the United States, where the markets were much better than in Europe," Somer said. "They could continue to work at home and make the products that they were traditionally making, and they'd have a market for them. Then that money would be returned to (the craftspeople) because it wouldn't be as much overhead working through churches and non-profits. Now they're serving many developing parts of the world, not just Europe."
For Somer, purchasing products that hurt people in developing countries just isn't worth it, and she is happy to support the positive impact that SERRV, and eight other fair trade organizations she deals with, have on people's lives.
"They work with the producers to see that they have start-up money if they need it. They set up a long-term contract with these people. They offer grants and provide them with the tools and the raw materials they may need," Somer said. "They work with them in training and help them develop products that sell well in our markets. Those people don't have to go to the cities to work in a factory situation or in sweatshops. They don't have to split up families. They can stay in their communities and yet make enough money."
Somer said many women in developing countries who participate in fair trade co-ops do so to earn money to send their children to school and care for grandparents and extended family.
The sale included products from Ghana, India, Pakistan, Guatemala, Peru and Cambodia. Somer said one of the most interesting new items she brought to the sale was earrings made of bomb casings from Cambodia.
"There were some that were in the shape of doves or the peace symbol, and they had some pendants that were leaves, and that's the first time I had seen those available, so I got some of those," Somer said.
Calene Lucero was at the event selling animal carvings, jewelry, wallets and wooden bowls for her charity Hands for H.O.P.E.
"I have a charity in Ghana, Africa, where I've been involved for the past eight years. I take care of about 12 orphans there, taking care of their school needs and their educational needs," Lucero said. "Just recently we decided to build a school. So we're building a computer training school."
Lucero's other projects in Ghana include a playground that produces electricity and a library.
"I think that they need to have the opportunities to have clean drinking water and have homes that they can feel safe in," Lucero said. "To empower them, to show that they can do whatever they want to do. They just didn't know they could do it, and now we're letting them know."
Somer said the consignment items that don't sell get shipped back to their respective countries.
"Shipping is one of the biggest costs," Somer said. "The wholesale things, yes, I get at a little discount, but they don't all sell. So I'm stuck with the remainder. I always cross my fingers every year that we're going to come out even."
To keep tabs on next year's event, you can follow the Congregational United Church of Christ on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Congregational.UCC.Ogden.
For more information on Hands for H.O.P.E. and the organization's upcoming spaghetti dinner charity event you can visit the organizations blog: http://handsforhope.wordpress.com/.
And for information on how to have a fair trade sale through your own church or nonprofit, you can visit SERRV's website at: http://www.serrv.org/.