Catholic Social Education in Action: Ethical Purchases in Catholic Institutions


BY KELLY SWAN | November 1, 2021

Maricela Lopez is very familiar with the ways in which workers’ rights are violated in the United States. The memory of his dehumanizing experience working in a chicken processing factory informs his work today– as a worker-owner and shift supervisor for Opportunity Threads, a worker cooperative textile mill in Morganton, North Carolina, linked to a larger ethical production initiative in the region, Industrial commons.

“When you come from a place where your rights have been violated, as a leader you have a choice: do the same things that were done to you or do better,” Lopez says. Working with younger employees, she tells them that “you have to be responsible, fight, work hard and not just stay where you are”.

Maricela Lopez (foreground) shows off a t-shirt quilt at Opportunity Threads, an Industrial Commons worker cooperative factory in Morganton, North Carolina

Some 800 kilometers away, a Catholic university looks at the same problems from a different angle: institutional purchases. Kate Giancatarino, director of the school’s Center for Service and Social Justice, was fully involved in this work. She spoke about the university’s 2013 Fair Trade Status, awarded by Fair Trade USA, as an incentive for the campus to take a more in-depth look at the products sold and food consumed on campus, and the implications of those decisions, to both from a human and ecological point of view.

Ethical Purchasing Alliance of the Catholic Community

Lopez and Giancatarino are connected to a larger movement beyond their own workplaces and communities through a new initiative — the Ethical Purchasing Alliance of the Catholic Community (CCEPA).

The CCEPA was born from an ongoing partnership between the Ignatian Solidarity Network and Ethix Merch, a supplier of ethical promotional products. The CCEPA serves a very specific objective: to support Catholic institutions and individuals in the integration of the values ​​of Catholic social education with their purchasing practices.

CCEPA origin story

For years ISN Executive Director Christopher Kerr and Ethix Merch CEO Daniel Cardozo have dreamed of ways to improve the partnership between their two organizations.

Cardozo describes the starting point of this partnership as the anti-sweatshop movement of the 1990s and early 2000s, which drew attention to the exploitation of garment workers around the world. In imagining the CCEPA, Cardozo and Kerr together took stock of the successes and failures of the initial movement. They noted that previous efforts within this movement were often too narrowly focused on individual purchasing decisions or too heavily focused on large government or institutional purchases. CCEPA takes a third path, focusing on harnessing the purchasing power of a specific population – in this case, Catholic institutions and individuals – to build a model and a supply chain that can be reproduced and used to exert enough influence to change corporate behavior.

The Catholic case of ethical purchasing

The concept of ethical production and purchasing has deep roots in social doctrine and Catholic tradition. The church teaches that “the the economy must serve people, not the opposite. Work is more than a means of earning a living; it is a form of continued participation in God’s creation. If the dignity of work is to be protected, then the fundamental rights of workers must be respected: the right to productive work, to decent and fair wages, to organize and join trade unions, to private property and economic initiative.

This leads to CCEPA’s second priority – highlighting the ecological impact of consumption and shopping as it relates to Catholic beliefs and the imperative to protect the inherent dignity of all peoples – and to the planet.

In his historic 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato si ‘, Pope Francis wrote that “work must be the framework for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life come into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living our values, relating to others, to give glory to God. “

Looking back, Pope John Paul II underscored the importance of the interdependence of the environment and ethical purchasing and production in his 1991 encyclical, Centesimus annus, writing: “Equally worrying is the ecological question which accompanies the problem of consumption and which is closely linked to it. In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the earth’s resources and his own life in an excessive and disorderly manner.

Walking: Catholic Ethical Purchasing in Action

Kate Giancatarino is an inaugural member of the CCEPA working group. Her work at Villanova has focused on these links between workers’ rights, ecology, and ethical buying and consumption. “Throughout the university, education takes place on the principles of Catholic social education, in the hope of going beyond theory and into practice, in the hope that the university embodies meaning beyond words. Specifically, we work with student leaders who are engaged in union activism and social actions who are invested in increasing fair work throughout the University, including in our purchasing.

The work of CCEPA is designed to support these efforts in Catholic institutions across the country. In August 2021, ISN and Ethix organized a one-day workshop for professors, staff and students of Catholic universities titled Working together: building a Catholic campus Ethical consumer culture, from which the CCEPA quickly developed.

ethical purchasing, Ethix and ISN

Working together: building a Catholic campus Ethical consumer culture participants and facilitators, including (top row, from left) Julie Myers, Christopher Kerr and Daniel Cardozo, and Matt Cuff (second row, left).

Julie Myers, recently hired as ISN’s Ethical Purchasing Coordinator, works closely with Cardozo and Kerr to develop CCEPA’s goals and programming. Myers has been engaged in this work for years, linked to his previous role of coordinating ethical immersions and buying as Campus Minister at John Carroll University. Joined by Matt Cuff, whose graduate program at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry funds active participation in outside projects, brings a rich range of network connections from his years working for the Office of Justice. and the ecology of the Jesuit Conference.

Myers works closely with a few key universities, including Villanova and John Carroll University, while CCEPA works to build a sustainable ethical purchasing model for Catholic universities. She formed a working group of staff and faculty from Jesuit institutions to provide feedback and suggestions on planning, create resources, facilitate connections between students, and provide context for their individual campuses.

Student involvement and energy around ethical purchasing is vital, but their time on campus is limited, and Myers strives to create cohesive key connection points between faculty and staff to get work done in the long run. term of bringing ethically produced items into campus bookstores, embracing campus policy changes and acquiring the appropriate license for clothing with college logo, all with the goal of individual campuses maintain this commitment even when a key leader in that community steps down.

Collection, ethical purchases, Ethix

A Villanova student wears a COLLECTION brand t-shirt designed for a campus ministerial event celebrating Earth Week on campus.

Cardozo underlines the specific goals of CCEPA – that within two years, 51% of Jesuit universities and high schools will become members of CCEPA, a developmental distinction that will include goal setting and action steps at the institutional level. In addition, CCEPA aims to include 51% of all Catholic universities and high schools as members within 5 years. “These 51% answer the question: have you developed a model that shows that a community or an entire network can change its purchasing behavior? This number shows us that our work supports a majority of Catholic educational institutions in learning, organizing and committing to ethical purchasing.

Closing the loop: Catholic institutions and the Carolina Textile District

During the current academic year, John Carroll University will pilot an immersion program in North Carolina to see firsthand the work of The Industrial Commons, in particular COLLECTION, a brand of ethically produced textiles key to the partnership between Ethix and ISN. During their stay, JCU students will have the opportunity to see first-hand the impact that ethical production and purchasing can have on individual lives and the environment, an experience designed to be replicated for other schools. , like Villanova.

Commenting on this growing partnership, Sara Chester, Co-Executive Director of The Industrial Commons, said, “The partnership with CCEPA will be so helpful for COLLECTION and our alliance of manufacturers because they can be a voice to share the beautiful products made and the good work that is happening here in North Carolina with the world.

ISN Executive Director Chris Kerr agrees. “Partnerships with worker-led initiatives like Industrial Commons are a unique opportunity for Catholic institutions to put into practice their commitment to sustainability, economic justice and workers’ rights. ”

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