Being an Ethical Consumer: A Call for People of All Ages and Backgrounds

Deisy Muñoz Viesca, policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB

Living in the United States, I think many of us take for granted the ready accessibility of food resources. Supermarkets across the nation offer a variety of food that is not necessarily produced in this country. For example, the United States imports 80-90% of its seafood. A simple trip to your local supermarket when you are craving tuna or shrimp is likely just a couple of minutes away. But do you ever think about the process or individuals who were involved in getting that food to your kitchen table?

When I first heard about ethical consumerism and product labeling, it was the summer before my first year of college. A friend was talking to me about the importance of fair trade labeling for coffee. She explained how fair trade certification kept companies accountable for just payment to their employees throughout the supply chain. This seemed like a beneficial endeavor to me, and I’ve kept it in mind since. Ethical consumerism came up again at my local parish in Colorado where only fair trade coffee is served. I was shocked to learn that engaging in ethical consumerism is a shared concern for both hippy-college students in Boulder and suburban daily Mass-goers in the suburbs of Denver

Catholic social teaching tells us to respect and support human dignity because we were created in the image and likeness of God. Yet our patterns of consumption can inhibit people living from a dignified life.

Human trafficking has become a global phenomenon that puts women, men, and children at risk. For example, in the seafood industry, tens of thousands of people are exploited due to the isolated nature of work on boats and lack of regulations. These vulnerable conditions can lead to forced labor, sexual servitude, and debt bondage.

All hope is not lost. We can use our power as consumers to help prevent and reduce these atrocities by becoming ethical consumers. The Coalition of Catholic Organizations Against Human Trafficking (CCOAHT) began a campaign last Lent called “Labeling for Lent: An Effort to Prevent Human Trafficking”. This campaign began as an effort to raise awareness about the reality of human trafficking in the seafood industry. A survey was conducted asking consumers if they would like seafood companies to include labeling on their packaged products to eradicate human trafficking and forced labor in their supply chains. More than 2,000 participants supported such a step.

Personally, I’ve struggled with being an ethical consumer because of my budget. I grew up in an immigrant household were the priority was to feed five people, not to buy products of ethical companies. Real barriers can present themselves when trying to be a conscious consumer. But think about it this way: exploited workers don’t have an option. Individuals are stripped of their freedom and dignity thousands of miles away, and, yet, we as American consumers have the capacity to stop this injustice. I’m not asking you to radically change your entire shopping routine because frankly that’s unreasonable. I am simply asking you to keep in mind our Catholic social teaching on the dignity of every human and be mindful of the products you purchase and companies you consequently support.

In the words of our Holy Father for the 2015 World Day of Peace, “Together with the social responsibility of business, there is also the social responsibility of consumers. Every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic –act.” But this call is not limited to those of the Catholic faith – anyone can be an ethical consumer.

For more information on how to become an ethical consumer and an advocate against human trafficking, please visit:

Deisy Muñoz Viesca is a policy intern for Migration and Refugee Services at USCCB. She is pursuing a degree in Political Science and Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado – Boulder.


Going Deeper

At WeAreSaltAndLight.org, read about creative ways that faith communities are educating and acting to engage Catholics in supporting ethical trade, including a new fair trade program at a Catholic school, a fair trade coffeehouse and retreat by parish teens, and a Catholic university that helped start a fair trade cooperative.

Providing Welcome and Creating Hope for Child Migrants

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

©istockphoto.com/Joel Carillet

On this “World Day of Migrants and Refugees,” we are called by the Holy Father to draw attention to child migrants, who “in a threefold way are defenceless: they are children, they are foreigners, and they have no means to protect themselves.”

Inspired by the journey of the Holy Family, which fled the violence of King Herod as many refugees flee violence today, the vision of Migration and Refugee Services (MRS) at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is “creating a world where immigrants, refugees, migrants, and people on the move are treated with dignity, respect, welcome, and belonging.” MRS serves as a leader in the protection of migrant and refugee children providing them foster care and family reunification services through culturally-appropriate programs nationwide since 1980.

Providing refuge and hope to migrant and refugee children fleeing for their lives is crucial at this time where we are witnessing the highest levels of displacement on record. An unprecedented 65.3 million people around the world have been forced from their homes– nearly 34,000 people every day.

As a member of an inter-faith, interagency delegation to Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan in April of 2016 I visited informal settlements of Syrian refugees. One of the dwellings I visited in Lebanon was an abandoned building occupied by 180 Syrian refugee families, totaling 1,000 people.  Approximately half were children.  The building bordered a busy road, next to which children played, barefoot, on a concrete courtyard.  The floor of one of the common rooms, a thruway to other rooms, was covered with about one inch of water, including raw sewage.

When we asked a group of about 25 children, most under 13 years old, who attended school, two raised their hands. The rest had to work to support their families.  For many migrant and refugee families, child labor is necessary for economic survival, particularly in countries where adult refugees are not allowed to work legally, such is the case in Lebanon, where refugees are at risk of detention and deportation to Syria if they are caught working.  Children can more easily evade labor and migration enforcement than adults.   The younger and more vulnerable a child is, the more earning potential they have as beggars, and the more at risk they are to exploitation and human trafficking.

Identifying children in need of protection is a challenge in many regions of the world where refugees reside. The result is that children who are in need of protection are not proactively identified, resulting in harm, sexual assault or rape, recruitment into criminal organizations, and in the worst cases, death. Children who are unable to access protection may take upon themselves pursuit of protective measures and migrate to safety themselves in what is often a perilous journey with uncertain consequences and results.

For children who are able to access protection, that is just the beginning. The path to a durable solution is a narrow, winding road. Durable solutions for unaccompanied children include integration into countries of first asylum, repatriation to their country of origin, or resettlement. Integration and repatriation are, in most cases, not realistic options, and although unaccompanied refugee minors make up about 3-4 percent of the world’s refugees only less than half of one percent are resettled.

For a small number of children, MRS makes that hope a reality, providing durable solutions for unaccompanied children through refugee resettlement, reunification with families, and placements in foster care programs.  In 2016, MRS resettled 10,000 refugee children who arrived with family members, reunified with families 2,000 migrant children who arrived to the United States alone, and for another 500 unaccompanied children secured safe housing in a variety of settings, from small-scale shelters or group homes to foster care families.  Embodying the MRS vision, a MRS foster parent to six unaccompanied children (from Nepal, Liberia, Honduras, the Congo, and Eritrea) said, “We didn’t just welcome them into our house, we welcomed (them) into our family.”

I’m concluding with a plea from the Holy Father, “The Church too needs you and supports you in the generous service you offer. Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

Click here for information on how to help refugee and migrant children.

kristyn-professional_sept-2014Kristyn Peck is Associate Director of Children’s Services, Migration and Refugee Services, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Welcome Migrants and Refugees This Advent

“Welcome one another, then, as Christ welcomed you.” Rom. 15:7.
Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Melissa Hastings, Policy Advisory, Migration and Refugee Services/USCCB

Forced migration is a stark reality facing millions. With more displaced persons than ever before, the need for countries and communities to offer protection, understanding, and welcome is great. In the midst of this global crisis and as the year comes to an end, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on our country’s record of welcoming migrants and refugees.

In Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the United States admitted nearly 85,000 refugees, including 12,000 Syrians. Through partnership with states and nongovernmental organizations, the United States has been able to provide crucial services to these resettled refugees in order to help them achieve self-sufficiency.  While the United States made some welcome progress during the past fiscal year in terms of creating and expanding programs to process Central American refugees, the current system has failed to address the needs of many individuals and families with valid protection concerns. This is evidenced by the fact that during FY 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended over 59,000 unaccompanied children and more than 77,000 family members at the U.S./Mexico border. Many of these families and children were fleeing violence and lack of state protection in El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

Our treatment of these groups is an issue which has divided many in our country, including our leaders and lawmakers. Over the past year, we have witnessed the unfortunate toll fear can take on our country, causing some to view vulnerable migrants and refugees unfavorably. In light of this rhetoric, it is more important than ever that we as Catholics heed Pope Francis’s call: “Do not tire of courageously living the Gospel, which calls you to recognize and welcome the Lord Jesus among the smallest and most vulnerable.”

The holiday season can be a great opportunity to welcome migrants and refugees in your community and educate your parish on the plights faced by many of these individuals.

How can you help create a community of welcome?  You can consider hosting a solidarity event. These events are a way to make migrants and refugees in your community feel supported. They can also be a way to further educate your fellow parishioners and community members about these issues. In addition, you can host a multicultural potluck event as a fun way to promote cultural awareness and foster a community of welcome.

How can you help educate your fellow parishioners on this issue?  Start a dialogue with your community around Catholic social teaching on migration. Share a copy of and discuss the pastoral letter Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope. You can also share a link to the Justice for Immigrants (JFI) website with members of your community so they can learn more about JFI’s work to support refugees and immigrants.

Through these actions, we can engage with and show support for our migrant and refugee neighbors. Learn about other ways to welcome these individuals here.

Melissa Hastings is policy advisor for Migration and Refugee Services, USCCB.


Going Deeper
Get ready to celebrate National Migration Week on January 8-14, 2017.  This year’s theme is “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” During the week, you can reflect with others on the circumstances confronting refugees and immigrants and our Catholic call to encounter and welcome.

For more information on intercultural dialogue, visit USCCB’s Secretariat for Cultural Diversity in the Church’s resources on intercultural competencies.

Standing with Our Immigrant Brothers and Sisters

Catholics know that every person is made in the image of God. Everyone is due our respect and our love. We’re called to care especially for those who most need our welcome, including newcomers to our country. Because the Church in America has always been an immigrant Church, Catholics feel this responsibility in a particular way.
The Catholic story in America is a story of immigrants, from the first Catholics who arrived here hundreds of years ago, to the waves of European immigrants whose nickels and dimes built so many churches and schools across this country, to those arriving today in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This is who we are.

We are also a family – a family whose life is enriched by the gift of our diversity. Every Sunday, in parishes across the country, people from different backgrounds come together to celebrate Mass. Many cities have Masses offered in twenty or more languages. Catholics of all backgrounds—Chinese, Polish, Guatemalan, Irish, Mexican, Ghanaian, Korean, Honduran, Lithuanian, Vietnamese —come together and are enriched by the Eucharist and by one another.

As a family, we take care of each other and our neighbors. Catholic parishes, schools, hospitals, and social service ministries care for immigrants every day, from language classes to job training programs to offering a helping hand when someone’s in need. We’ve been helping integrate immigrants into American life since Catholics first arrived on our shores. This is what we do.

Given who we are and what we do, we have a special responsibility to reject the hostility that dominates the public conversation about immigration today. The language we use in the public square matters. It should reflect the best of our American traditions – traditions of welcome; of unity in diversity; of care for those in need.

Pope Francis reminds us that immigrants are no different than our own family members and friends; each “has a name, a face, and a story.” Let us remember that Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus were also immigrants in a foreign land when they fled from King Herod to Egypt. When we warmly welcome newcomers we open our hearts wider to Christ.

Most Reverend Eusebio Elizondo is Auxiliary Bishop of Seattle and Chairman of the Committee on Migration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.