Women in Tanzania pluck the tea in a systematic manner. The tea for the wildlife camps is bought at a local Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified tea company.
Women in Tanzania pluck the tea in a systematic manner. The tea for the wildlife camps is bought at a local Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certified tea company. Credit: Courtesy / Koen van Seijen

Christmas has officially moved into the online world.

Americans are expected to spend $632 billion this holiday season, up from $607 billion last year, according to the New York Times. For the first time, more than half of that growth will come from online shopping.

Gifts are thoughtful expressions of the people and values we care about. In this season of giving and sharing, it makes all the sense in the world to shop ethically, to think about both the person who will receive the gift and the person who made the gift.

It’s not that hard.

As people of faith, we can bring smiles to others we care about and promote economic justice for those who produce the gift items when we shop ethically. And it is easy to do it all online as well.

Pope Francis once said: “There is no worse material poverty … than the poverty which prevents people from earning their bread and deprives them of the dignity of work.”

A few years ago I met Atule Nyaba and the women of Bolgo, Ghana, while on a trip to West Africa with Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official international relief and development agency of the United States Catholic Bishops, for which I work part-time. Atule showed me the technique of weaving beautiful straw baskets and hats that she and the others sell through the Fair Trade program of SERRV, one of CRS’ partners.

Fair Trade or shopping ethically means that the people in the developing countries that produced the product – whether it’s baskets, coffee, jewelry, chocolate, or any other item – receive a fair wage for their work according to the standards of their country. It also guarantees that these products were made in a safe working environment. This kind of buying focuses on the person, not just the product or price.

People who produce items outside of Fair Trade standards often receive only a tiny percentage for their work. With those products, you never know how much goes to the person who made it and how much goes to the middlemen. A $3 T-shirt usually means someone was paid very little and often worked under difficult conditions with few if any benefits, yet we want that cheap price.

Can we rethink how we shop?

Atule’s group gets as much as 85% of the sale price, as opposed to the 25 cents which they used to get. They now get $5 per basket, a huge boost to their income. They work in agricultural fields part of the year, and the baskets provide necessary funds to help supplement the meager income from farming.

There are several local stores in San Antonio that offer many Fair Trade products. Even larger stores have items like coffee or chocolate available. There are also countless websites where you can browse and buy your gifts ethically.

My parish, Mission Concepción, has a Fair Trade sale every December for Christmas and every May for Mother’s Day. We also have a Giving Tree where people can choose to pay for an item or program that will benefit others in the developing world.

As you search online for that perfect Christmas gift, remember your values and shop ethically. Shopping online can be mechanical or impersonal, but Christ was born to show us how to live a truly human life by giving of ourselves to others, especially the most vulnerable. If we live our lives with heightened awareness, we can make a difference for our sisters and brothers in other parts of the world. If we buy products that give them a decent income, then we can make an even bigger difference.

Atule and the other women of Bolgo were thankful for CRS’ support. They danced for us and laughed when we tried to weave baskets. It was easier to just buy them, which most of us did.

This Christmas, whether online or in person, I hope you will too.