Friends General Conference

Nurturing faith and Quaker practice

Fair Trade - Making Choices, Organizing Change

Workshop Number: 
Yoko Koike Barnes
Who may register?: 
Open to all adults and high school
Experiential Activities: 
part-time attenders welcome (can come any day; some might only attend Thursday or Friday)
half gathering attenders welcome
First half (Monday-Wednesday)
Second half (Wednesday/Thursday-Friday)

Together we will discern what an individual or a Quaker community can do to change the inhumane practices of industries like cocoa, coffee, bananas and fashion. Learning about the empowering movement of Fair Trade can deepen our connection to the lives of the people--often children--who are most affected.

Workshop Description

This workshop is for Friends who want to take part in an action for social change in a way that speaks to them. Seven years ago, upon learning about the harsh reality of child labor in cocoa farms, I searched for ways to get involved, and found the global movement of Fair Trade. 

            What is Fair Trade?

Products certified as Fair Trade should mean that for the producers, besides fair wages and a guaranteed minimum pay regardless of fluctuation of the world market, they meet these conditions:  no child labor, safe working conditions, an environmentally sustainable production process, and worker control over the premium they receive in addition to a fair price. 

There are a number of ways to be active in the movement. We will explore various ways that might speak to us.   

The workshop is not academic in nature. It is not about examining economic systems or discussing the big picture to try for grand solutions.

It is about revealing and strengthening the connections we have with those who produce what we consume. We will seek ways to bring about changes in workers’ lives. 

The format of each daily workshop is as follows.

After brief silence, a short phrase will be read with a visual image; this will lead us into opening worship (10-15 minutes). 

After worship, there will be an interactive session to uncover an industry’s common business practice and workers’ lives.  From Monday through Thursday, we will focus each day on a single industry--cocoa, coffee, bananas and fashion. Films will be used to assist the process (45-60 minutes). We will conclude this first part with worship-sharing (10-15 minutes) followed by a break (5 minutes). 

After the break, we will have a session on Fair Trade work already in place (30 minutes). A discussion will follow, with the goal of reaching discernment for actions on an individual basis or as a community  (30 minutes). We will conclude the day with a summary session followed by brief worship (15 minutes). 

On the last day, we will look at the overall issues that arose out of the work done on previous days before reaching a final resolution. 

The issues are complex and the reality can be overwhelming. For example:  the number of children who work in hazardous conditions on cocoa farms in West Africa has increased by more than 10% to over 2 million during the past 5 years. How could this be possible? It is difficult to explain it when so many of us should be aware of, and alarmed about, the situation and when more Fair Trade chocolate should be available on the market. (In the U.S., it is estimated that 1%-5% of the chocolate on the market is Fair Trade certified.)  

The Fair Trade town campaign started in England in 2001. Now there are almost 2,000 such towns worldwide.  Fair Trade Philadelphia, the group I started in 2013 with like-minded citizens, made Philadelphia a Fair Trade town in 2015. 

When our group decided to aim at attaining Fair Trade town status, we did not know what to expect. Through the process, we met individuals and groups that inspired us, and now partner with us. I have found these people most helpful.  There have been times when we were faced challenges.  These partners provided us wisdom and perspective while offering us friendship and encouragement. The workshop participants will learn how one’s town/school/congregation can become designated Fair Trade. They will also learn about mistakes we have made and their consequences, some of which were lessened, fortunately, thanks to those who cared about our mission. 

Fair Trade Philadelphia (FTPHL) consists of Philadelphia citizens; within the core of active members, there is no Friend except myself.   I felt a strong need in grounding in the spirit. This was provided by my support group from our meeting. Since October 2016, my ministry of Fair Trade has been under the care of Central Philadelphia MM. 

At the Gathering, I wish to connect with other Friends who have been engaged in Fair Trade work or who would be interested in starting such. In CPMM, we order Fair Trade products through the Equal Exchange Interfaith Partners program. On any occasion calling for refreshments, we serve Fair Trade coffee/tea.  We promised ourselves that we would not serve a chocolate dessert unless we know it is Fair Trade. Even this small level of commitment makes a difference. It will make an impact if Friends all over the States could declare that we will serve only Fair Trade coffee/tea/chocolate. Moreover if each Friend would start purchasing more Fair Trade products for her own home, work place or school, it will have a ripple effect and the impact will be felt. Friends can organize a group to promote the Fair Trade mission wherever they are. 

Having been involved in Fair Trade campaigns since 2011, first at my college and my meeting, then in the city of Philadelphia, I now think, “ Every one is needed and every effort is important.” I am open to any, but I cannot help but wish we will be led to a minute calling for specific action, as individuals and/or as a group; or that we form a group to plan actions to make a difference. 

There will be no cost for this workshop.

Leader Experience

My work on Fair Trade started at Haverford College, where I directed the Japanese program. I recruited students and together we organized a “Fair Trade Initiative.” We partnered with the bookstore and the dining center. We offered film shows, lectures and gift fairs. The student body passed the Fair Trade resolution before I retired. 

In addition to 30 years of teaching experience, I have conducted various workshops on pedagogy, Japanese language and culture. I co-founded a local association of teachers of Japanese to promote mutual support and friendship, and to aim at raising professional levels of instruction.           

In 2013, I started Fair Trade Philadelphia with like-minded citizens and we made Philadelphia, the 43rd Fair Trade town in the U.S. in 2015. It celebrated its 3rd anniversary in August 2016. With support from the America’s First Fair Trade Town Committee, Media, PA, we received a grant from the Douty Foundation in 2015-2016 for our “Nurturing Fair Minds” project that aims to raise awareness of Fair Trade among children. This helped us carry out workshops at First Day Schools and local libraries, where we used game-like hands-on activities to help young people relate to the life of a child worker on cocoa farms.