Fair trade is, first and foremost, about people.
One of the main principles of fair trade, according to the World Fair Trade Organization, the Fair Labeling Organization and the Fair Trade Federation, is to create advantages and protections for marginalized or disadvantaged producers and workers. We can easily speculate who belongs in this group – small landowner farmers, workers in sweatshops, children harvesting cocoa, transplanted people in war-ravaged regions, many of them often located in the southern hemisphere.
But there are marginalized groups in the so-called “developed” world, too. In the U.S., we hear about the “undocumented” workers who pick the majority of our produce. We are aware they provide much of the labor in restaurants, meatpacking plants and hotels. These workers face challenges similar to some of the most marginalized groups in other regions, vulnerable populations that lack access to education, health care, safe living conditions and economic opportunity.
Some of these marginalized, undocumented workers will get arrested and sent to U.S. prisons. Once they become members of that community, can they still be considered “marginalized?” Or, do we now write them off with the rest of our incarcerated population, muttering things like “they all come out the same” and “they just learn to become better criminals?”
And what about other incarcerated individuals, who are also often from economically and educationally disadvantaged areas? Can they be considered among our “most marginalized?” Many members of the incarcerated population (both undocumented and citizens alike) have been disadvantaged for most, if not all, of their lives. Do we further marginalize these people by refusing to accept them back into the community, calling them “offenders,” “felons” and worse, as if that is who they are – and will be forever – and not just something they did in a moment in time?
Solidale Italiano, an economic justice-based line of products made under fair conditions through Ctm Altromercato in Italy, is actively addressing these tough questions. In an amazing spirit of solidarity and commitment to the community, Economia Carceraria engages prisoners in creating products from seven different prisons all over Italy. In each prison, there is a group of inmates involved in production, and each group gets the logistical support of a social cooperative outside the prison. Ctm Altromercato believes that reconnecting inmates with the community through employment increases their sense of belonging to the greater community, provides marketable skills and assists in their reintegration.
Some of Economia Carceraria’s principles include:
- The organization manages productive activity and promotes the reintegration of prisoners at the end of their sentence
- The organization disseminates information about the prison economy, social values and awareness of alternative measures to detention.
- To the extent possible, the organization supports the use of raw materials from environmentally sustainable and fair trade sources for the production of its products.
From Economia Carceraria’s Solidale Italiano flyer:
“Adherence to these principles led us today to expand our relationship to productive activities involving ‘internal places of imprisonment’ in order to upgrade the status of the punitive sentence, from sentence to rehabilitation and re-education, and to promote social reintegration through the work. The products of fair trade are vehicles of information for those who produce them and their living conditions, thus helping to create a critical awareness among consumers.”
What does the Italian public think about supporting Economia Carceraria? In the U.S., we generally believe that incarcerated people “get what they deserve” regarding not only their sentences but also the collateral consequences that follow them throughout their lives.
Rudi Dalvai, founder of Ctm Altromercato and Solidale Italiano, shares his perspective: “When we launched Economia Carceraria we communicated clearly to consumers through a press release. We received an incredible response; people wanted more! We did not receive a single negative letter.”
“Punish? Yes. But only punish? Then we have no progress. Incarceration should include a chance to learn. Learning and earning – saving to start a new life. When they are released, they then have some money, marketable skills and, most importantly, confidence that they can do this on the outside as well as they did it in prison,” he adds.
Can we open our minds and hearts to include the incarcerated among our “marginalized” populations? Can we include them in the vision of our global community? Thank you, Solidale Italiano, for showing us a more expansive and inclusive perspective.