We were taught that the goal of fair trade is to allow workers and producers to make a decent wage and ensure healthy, safe working conditions. Child labour should be unacceptable and education should be a priority.
So from early on, I tried to steer clear of brands I knew used child labour and sweatshops. I'd also frequent Salvation Army thrift stores because of their ethical consumer stand.
As I got older, though, my priorities shifted to convenience and affordability. Life got busy, and I believed fair trade items could only be purchased in specialty stores and cost a small fortune, neither of which I had ready access to.
A History of Hope
But two years ago, I took the survey at slaveryfootprint.org and was floored at the effect of my shopping habits. There must be a way, I thought, to be more intentional about my purchases, so as to reduce the devastating effect on others.
The Bible has countless commands, stories and values that speak to the way we treat people. We see a call to support and fairly treat all people in a number of Old Testament stories. For example, Proverbs 14:31 says: “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.” The Bible is also clear on injustice: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
The Salvation Army has been greatly involved in fair trade throughout its history. As early as 1891, the Army purchased a matchmaking factory and revolutionized the industry by forcing competitors to adopt safer production methods and healthier work environments. Recently, the Army lobbied for fair trade practices in Australia, which resulted in name-brand chocolate companies offering fair trade chocolate, moving away from one of the most devastating child labour sectors in cocoa.
Making a Difference
While many people agree with the idea of fair trade shopping in principle, there are a number of things that hold people back as consumers.
Cost is often seen as a limitation to supporting fair trade companies, but often there is little to no difference in price. With a bit of research, you can find fair trade products in many places where you already shop. And when we think of the human cost, it becomes too expensive not to buy fair trade.
We can make a difference with every purchase we make. The proof is in companies such as Cadbury, Ben & Jerry's and many others who now provide fair trade options, due to consumer demand. There are also some amazing companies such as the Joyful Project and The Salvation Army's Others campaign that partner with producers to give disadvantaged and trafficked people an education and quality of life they never dreamed was possible.
When we consider our values as people of faith, fair trade just makes sense. We can make a difference with every thoughtful purchase we make.
Click here to download the Canadian Fair Trade Shopping Guide.
You can make a difference:
- Learn to recognize common fair trade labels and use them in your home, office and church.
- Ask your local coffee shop to offer fair trade coffee and tea, and your local grocer to sell fair trade food products.
- Tell friends and family why you think fair trade can help create a more just global economy.
- Celebrate World Fair Trade Day on May 13, 2017.
- Buy fair trade gifts for housewarmings, birthdays and holidays. –Christine LeBlanc