HandCrafting Justice promotes fair trade across the globe

A small group of volunteers came together in Queens to stock shelves and unpack boxes for one cause – to eliminate global poverty. HandCrafting Justice, working alongside the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, sell hundreds of handcrafted products to create further employment opportunities for artisans in developing countries. The organization located in the St. John’s Prep School in Astoria, supports thousands of women in more than 20 countries across the globe.

The boutique sells handmade toys from Thailand, woven handbags from Kenya, multi-colored tablecloths from Ecuador and indigenous beaded masks from Mexico. HandCrafting Justice offers several unique handmade products that reflect the cultural identity in which they were created. The monetary income these women receive from their products not only support them and their families but also help these artisans form a self-reliant attitude towards their environment.

HandCrafting Justice develops a trusting relationship with these international communities. The Good Shepherd Sisters located abroad send samples and catalogs of the handcrafted products. What is unique to this process is that the artisans in the local communities set the price of products and they are paid for their artwork once the goods are received in Astoria. 

Maureen McGowan, the director of HandCrafting Justice, is confident that fair trade practices can help eradicate poverty.

“Each and every day, 3,000 women and their families are supported through the work of HandCrafting Justice,” said McGowan.

The organization was formed in 1997 with a deep desire to support fair Trade across the globe. While most students assume fair trade products only cover certain commodities such as coffee and chocolate, HandCrafting Justice takes fair trade to another level by supporting various handcrafted items that would otherwise not gain a consumer’s attention.

“Fair trade brings the producers, the buyers and the market into a relationship in which the revenues and profits are shared in a much more equitable way,” said McGowan. “Businesses have a pretty hierarchic structure. The big corporations have much of the power and small farmers and producers have very little to say about what happens.”

Since 2000, fair trade initiatives and awareness have grown tremendously in the west. On May 14, 2011, the international communities will celebrate the fifth annual World Fair Trade Day. Countries across the globe come together through several events including fair trade fashion shows, art shows, lectures concerning trade justice and climate change, to innocuous activities such as face painting with the World Fair Trade Day logo in order to raise awareness.

McGowan recommends that students should get involved with fair trade by making changes in their college campus and the local community. She suggests that students should become more knowledgeable concerning fair trade practices and ask the administration for further fair trade options.  Whether it is coffee at the school café or t-shirts in the bookstore, students and administrators can offer fair trade options and educate students in order to eliminate global poverty. 

 “Students should talk about fair trade in their classes,” said McGowan. “They should challenge professors to include fair trade ideas and compensation and include these topics in their curriculum.”

Students at St. John’s University can also get involved at HandCrafting Justice by volunteering.

“We have received lots of support from St. John’s University,” said McGowan. “It could be on the weekends, service days, service learning and campus activities. We have done lots of service together.”

Students can bring their various talents to use by supporting the organization through pricing and labeling products, technically assisting the website, planning events, conducting research and marketing development. HandCrafting Justice is very flexible with students’ hours and welcomes volunteers with no specific time requirements. Samantha Zegel, a sophomore, volunteered at HandCrafting Justice last year by packaging and labeling products for shipment. Not only was she amazed with the quality of the products but felt empowered that she could offer a helping hand to those living in developing countries.

“I think it’s hard for people who really have a talent to show off what they can do and get credit that they deserve,” said

Zegel. “Fair trade brings a lot of unique and really talented people together here with products we don’t see anymore.”

The most important aspect of HandCrafting Justice and fair trade is opening the eyes of students to various cultures and identities. Through fair trade, not only can students support communities affected by poverty but also gain a wider appreciation for various lifestyles.

“Fair trade has made me realize the difference between the mass produced American products and the amazing quality of handmade objects,” said Zegel. “It makes you appreciate the talent that these people have in their craft.”