Catholic San Francisco


(Photo courtesy Lynn Maloney)

Student members of the Marin Catholic Fair Trade Committee and social studies teacher Lynn Maloney introduced the school to the fair trade concept last October with an event that showed them popular products with fair trade alternatives.

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Marin Catholic leads in fair trade initiative
January 26th, 2016
By Christina Gray

Catholic values at heart of new initiative aimed at ‘economic justice’

An oversized chocolate-chip muffin sold in the school’s cafeteria is offering Marin Catholic High School students and perhaps some faculty and staff what may be their first taste of fair trade economics.

The chocolate chips baked into the popular muffins, and indeed all chocolate and/or chocolate ingredients sold or used by the school now comes from “fair trade” sources. Fair trade is an economic concept that means that the human beings behind the goods are offered a living wage for their work and are treated fairly and ethically.

Marin Catholic became the first fair trade school in Marin County in late 2015 after meeting requirements set by Fair Trade Campaigns, a grass-roots organizing nonprofit that helps U.S. towns, churches and schools “go fair trade.”

It is the 18th school in the nation and just one of two Catholic schools in the state to earn the certification thanks to a motivated teacher, a committee of passionate students and an equally-committed food service management company working together on an issue they say is rooted in Catholic values.

“As a Catholic school, it’s an idea that syncs with student and staff values,” said social studies teacher and student activities director Lynn Maloney, the impetus behind Marin Catholic’s fair trade movement.

Without using the words “fair trade,” two popes have also supported the idea. “It is good for people to realize that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act,” Pope Benedict XVI said in his 2009 encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate.” More recently, Pope Francis appealed for “a return to person-centered ethics in the world of finance and economics.”

Catholic Relief Services, the U.S. bishops overseas relief organization, has a website dedicated to promoting fair trade,

At Marin Catholic, freshmen are introduced to fair trade economics, according to Maloney, and “get all fired up” when they learn about abusive labor practices in developing countries that can amount to nothing short of slavery.

“I was surprised how many brands aren’t fair trade and seeing what people are put through when they don’t get adequate wages,” said sophomore Leo Le Merle.

“In my 11 years of teaching, very rarely do I find a kid who has heard about it prior to coming to school or really understood it,” Maloney said. “I wanted to do something positive to channel all their outrage.”

Under the direction of Fair Trade Campaigns, Maloney first approached the school’s long-standing food service company, the Epicurean Group, who became enthusiastic partners.

“We really could not have gotten the certification without them,” she said.

Requirements in becoming a fair trade school include bringing fair trade goods to campus, working with a permanent vendor or supplier and forming a student Fair Trade Committee to promote the campaign.

Fair trade items can encompass a variety of products including chocolate, coffee, tea, fruit, body care items and clothing, but Maloney decided the chocolate-chip muffins were a good place to start. Epicurean went to work sourcing fair trade chocolate chips and chocolate “sprinkles.”

The cafeteria now offers fair trade teas and honey and the “snack shack” also features fair trade items.

The Fair Trade Committee, formed from volunteers at all grade levels, helped launch the new muffins and the fair trade concept with a fun and food-filled event that displayed popular products and fair trade alternatives.

The committee turned to social media to help fellow students understand fair trade and spread the word among friends.

“We asked people to take an Instagram photo with the hashtag, #mcfairtrade and share it,” said Alex Sinard, a junior, for a free fair trade cookie. That was incentive enough, to “clog up the Internet with support, which is what we wanted,” said Maloney.

In November, the school produced an informational two-minute video to help gain the support of parents.

“We are fair trade because we want to create a community of responsible consumers who can make a positive impact on this world,” said history teacher Katie Smith, on the short video.

Committee member Jade Fagersten, a junior, said that people often see a product but not the person behind the product making or producing it.

“In its entirety fair trade is about people, about them getting fair pay and respect for their work and the dignity they deserve,” Fagersten said.

From January 28, 2016 issue of Catholic San Francisco.

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