Fri, Mar

Company to Debut 'Fair Trade' Guatemalan Goods in New Haven, Conn.

Mercado Global will launch a catalog of "fair trade" Guatemalan goods tonight at Hot Tomato's restaurant downtown.

Nov. 18—NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Mercado Global will launch a catalog of "fair trade" Guatemalan goods tonight at Hot Tomato's restaurant downtown.

Two Yale University graduates started the nonprofit organization in May after witnessing the difficulties Guatemalan villagers had in finding customers and getting fair prices for handmade goods.

The "fair trade" movement refers to efforts to ensure living wages and job opportunities for poor artisans and farmers around the world.

Mercado Global's founders, Ruth DeGolia, executive director, and Benita Singh, president, created the company to develop a U.S. customer base for 14 rural cooperatives in some of Guatemala's poorest regions.

The catalog will feature 41 items, including traditional weavings, tablecloths, table runners, jewelry, ceramics and papier mache.

To celebrate the new catalog, Mercado Global will host a fund-raiser tonight from 8 to 10 p.m. at Hot Tomato's restaurant, 261 College St.

Sonido Unidad, a New Haven-based salsa band, will serve up Latin rhythms to spice up the event. Admission is $50 a person, or $30 for students.

The catalog will be distributed to 2,000 people and stores nationally. It can be ordered online via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

A new Web site, www.mercadoglobal.org, will be ready to take orders after Dec. 1.

Mercado, based at 250 Church St., suite 101, helps cooperatives find customers by hosting sales on college campuses. The catalog and Web site will expand the agency's ability to reach customers.

The cooperatives the organization helps support 1,500 people. In Guatemala, a country of 2.7 million, 90 percent of the population lives in poverty.

A 36-year civil war that ended in 1996 resulted in 1 million refugees, and many of the cooperatives were founded by refugees returning from Mexico to their villages.

On her travels in Central America, DeGolia said she witnessed foreign tourists taking advantage of the villagers, offering them far less than their goods were worth because they had no other customers.

"In Guatemala you see wealthy foreigners bargain down prices. A scarf that takes three days to make they won't pay more than a dollar for," DeGolia said.

Mercado Global sells those scarves for about $14, with $8 going straight to the families that make them. The remainder covers overhead and shipping costs.

DeGolia said she and Singh use fund-raisers to pay for their salaries rather than taking them out of the co-op sales.

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© 2004, New Haven Register, Conn. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.