One of our main projects at Ethix Merch is to peer behind the curtain of large and influential organizations and help them become more ethical participants in the global economy.
There are very few larger or more influential organizations than the Catholic church. For years, we have been working doggedly – alongside advocates for economic equality and environmental sustainability within the church structure – to make Catholic purchasing consistent with human rights and sustainable development goals, and with the laudable exhortations from Pope Francis for Catholics to help build a just and sustainable economy.
Expanding the Ethical Community Through the Catholic Ethical Purchasing Alliance
The vehicle for this work has been the Catholic Ethical Purchasing Alliance (CEPA), a partnership between Ethix, the Ignatian Solidarity Network, ethical and sustainable manufacturers like COLLECTION, and buyers from within the U.S. Catholic community. CEPA’s initial focus is on purchasing at universities and high schools. Schools purchase an astonishing amount of branded apparel, and Catholic schools are no exception. Team uniforms, giveaways for incoming students, student group and individual department merch, homecoming and alums t-shirts…the list goes on, and that doesn’t even include the school’s official licensed merchandise available for retail sale at their student stores.
A growing number of students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools want to stop their school’s participation in the carnival of abuse and environmental destruction that characterizes the global apparel industry. This is an industry that drives massive economic inequality, generational cycles of poverty, persistently dangerous working conditions, and recklessly high carbon emissions throughout the supply chain.
Despite good intentions, schools struggle to escape bureaucracies and budgets whose internal logic prioritizes cost over healthy outcomes for workers and the environment. Because exploiting garment workers and creating unsustainable carbon emissions are not priced into the cost of apparel, buyers must actively decide to give a voice to workers and consider impacts on the environment. It takes effort.
Hitting the Road to Connect With CEPA Schools
Last month, we toured six Catholic universities that have committed to working with CEPA on the ethics of purchasing. Four of these – Xavier University, John Carroll University, Mercyhurst University, and University of Dayton – already have CEPA’s partner brands available on student store shelves as part of an exciting pilot program. (Here is a link to the John Carroll University t-shirt) The two other schools – Villanova University and College of the Holy Cross – are on the cusp of joining the pilot as well.
At each school, we met with groups of faculty, staff, and students who were eager to connect the dots between the desire to be responsible institutional consumers and the reality of day-to-day purchasing practices at their school. In the aftermath of the tour, committees are forming to promote the partnership and educate the campus community about the link between purchasing, worker rights, and sustainability. Nearly all of the schools have committed to sending groups of students through an “alternative Spring Break” program to North Carolina (home of the COLLECTION brand) to meet directly with workers and witness the innovations in sustainable production happening there, like the Material Return (MR) program. MR is a worker-owned cooperative that takes a bite out of global warming by turning textile waste into socks and other items.
Follow Along for CEPA Updates
Can the Catholic community (with the help of CEPA) demonstrate that a school’s values and mission should play at least as strong a role as price when it comes to institutional purchasing? The experiment is happening as we speak.
To learn more, or follow along with the latest CEPA developments, visit ethicalcatholic.org.