Keeping Warm and Staying Fair

Justice Scarves

Students at St Mary of the Angels Secondary College in Nathalia are staying warm this winter with newly acquired Fairtrade scarves. The scarves, in school colours, are the result of the school’s culture of justice, vibrant student leadership, a tenacious teacher and ETIKO.

The country Victorian school’s Social Justice Leader Ruth Bakogianis, said the school started sourcing scarves several years ago from Tikaperu, a social justice initiative started by the Sisters of Mercy to help poor women in Peru to educate their families.

“After the factory in Peru was closed during the COVID pandemic and failed to reopen, it has been a journey to source new scarves that are ethically made and help some of the poorest in the world,” Ruth said.

Ruth then made contact with ETIKO, which is now supplying the scarves that are made in India with certified 100% fair trade and organic cotton. ETIKO uses cotton from Chetna Organic Farmers Association, a farmer-owned nonprofit that works with smallholder farming families in three regions of India: Maharashta, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Since it began in 2004, Chetna has worked with marginalised farmers to make farming a sustainable and profitable occupation.

St Mary’s has a long history of justice work, initiated by the Franciscan Missionaries of Divine Motherhood (FMDM) Sisters decades ago. Ruth was a guest on the ACRATH Conversations last year looking at Justice work in schools, the students attended an ACRATH Conversation in 2021 focussing on ethical shopping, and more recently student leaders, Jazz Thompson, Abbie Smith and Gabby Wilkins (pictured), appeared in the February 8 global pilgrimage video urging other schools to look at supply chains in their schools.

“I’m pleased our school has taken a stance on ethical clothing; we’re all very passionate about changing our school community’s approach so that products are more ethically sourced and better for the environment and the lives of others. I’m also glad we’re more educated regarding the source of products used in our everyday lives, but we can always learn more. It’d be great to also look into some other aspects of our school environment and research the product’s origin and level of ethicality,” Jazz said.

Gabby said the ‘scarf story’ was known in the school community and it helped embed the culture of working for social justice worldwide. She said the story of the scarves gives students “a different view on life when you consider that something as minor as choosing another brand of scarf, that impacts us very little, can mean the world to the people who produce and create these scarves.”

“It shows students that there are different aspects and steps of the supply chain, and it’s more complex than going to the office with money and buying a scarf; there are layers upon layers of people behind the scenes working long hours to produce something as little as a piece of clothing, and choosing to source it with the thoughts of others makes a difference worldwide,” Gabby said.

Abbie would love to see other schools make similar uniform changes as a way of addressing injustices in the supply chains.

“So many people who make the clothes we wear, just so they can get some sort of profit for their family, are abused in the workforce. We need to educate parents and schools about buying slavery free uniforms, as so many families around the world can’t even afford the basic needs we have due to labour exploitation,” Abbie said.

The scarves cost $20