American business leader Adam Neiman, founder of Bienestar International, which produces union-made, sweatshop-free apparel under the No Sweat label, has started a fair trade clothing business in Bethlehem with Palestinian Christians and Muslims. He was interviewed by Sojourners associate editor Rose Marie Berger in November 2006.
Sojourners: What got you started on this project?
Adam Neiman: Well, it was really serendipity. This young man, Joe Turner, wanted to import fair trade T-shirts into England. He heard there was a union factory in Bethlehem, and he called me up for advice. I said, "My God! We just answered the question 'What would Jesus wear?'" I arranged to meet him and the factory owner [Elias Ibrahim Alarja, the Palestinian-Christian owner of Arja Textile Co.] in Bethlehem to see if we could do business.
Sojourners: How did Alarja respond to your offer to work with them on producing fair trade organic cotton T-shirts for export?
Neiman: I arrive. We talk. He wants to do business. But he's confused. He doesn't get how I can turn his problem into an opportunity. He's sitting on a gold mine. But also everyone over there is severely traumatized.
Sojourners: How many people are employed in the factory, and what does "unionized" mean in the Palestinian context?
Neiman: There are about 70 people working there. First of all, they don't have collective bargaining yet, so they have an individual contract. All the workers are members of the Palestine General Federation of Trade Unions. While I was there Shaher Saed, the PGFTU general secretary, came to meet with us. He drove through six hours of roadblocks from Nablus to Bethlehem.