The last couple of weeks have been “Fair Trade Fortnight.” Now, Fair Trade has been a bit of a hobby horse for both my wife and myself over the last few years and forgive me if you’ve heard all of this before, but please continue reading because while many of us have heard this before we as a church do not seem to be acting on it.
The call of Jesus is to be people who live in the Kingdom of God, to be in the world but to be living a lifestyle, ethic and disciplines that are of a different world, the one that we pray about when we speak the Lord’s Prayer together “May Your Kingdom Come.” This Kingdom is of a realm where each person is valued, where there is no definition between peasant and priest, where the ethics of the Kingdom reign.
The ethics that are being played in our current marketplace are far from this, it’s an ethic that places the lives of some over the lives of others, the pleasures of those who can afford it over those who cannot (or those who have to suffer in order for those pleasures to be experienced). The current empire lives by a system that if we can get away with it then it’s alright (or even it’s best-practice) to make money by making the life of another of less value than your own.
It’s not too difficult to see that many of the current market practices stand up against those of the Kingdom of God and it strikes me as a concern that many of us are not interested in, or are not willing to look into a different way of being.
As for Fair Trade, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that our excuses for not supporting it are becoming weaker.
- For those people who used to say that there’s not going to be any change in our supermarkets and that there wasn’t a public concern you only need to walk down the coffee and tea aisle at the local supermarket to see that the range of Fair Trade products are increasing.
- For those people who liked to quote reports from the internet claiming that Fair Trade isn’t working to plan therefore we should scrap it altogether will find more and more reports praising the work of the model and it’s impacts on local produce communities.
- For those people who have been saying that because it’s not a perfect model we shouldn’t support it we’re reminded that the fear of failure should not be a reason to give in on acting towards a Kingdom ethic (as one wise person has said, it’s like saying that because we can never fully love our children the way that we should we should give up trying altogether, that way we’ll never really fail)
Fair Trade in its simplest form means that companies will guarantee a set price for a number of years to communities of farmers, that way they can project their income and, in turn create a budget which allows them to afford uniforms, education, homes, staff. By working closer to these farmers the company can also see ways where they can help support the local community and also ensure that people (including children) are not trafficked as slave labor.
In it’s simplest of forms Fair Trade means that people are able to eat, plan for the future and aren’t trafficked as slaves to pick our cocoa or coffee. It’s an ethical system that offers an alternative to the one that we currently live with where our “guilty pleasure” of chocolate, coffee, tea and many other items are guilty, not because of their sugar, fat and carb content but because it is highly likely that child/slave labor was used in order to produce the item (the redefinition of the word “guilty” in order to focus on its fat/carb content rather than how it’s been produced & marketed is another topic altogether).
Why wouldn’t we want to support a model of trade that encourages companies to develop stronger relationships to their producers, to see them as people and treat them differently? If we knew the people who grew and picked our coffee, cocoa or tea perhaps we’d not have any concerns about supporting Fair Trade, (I’m reminded that only recently we in the Riverina have heard the plights of our dairy farmers wanting a fair market for their product while our supermarkets were creating a price war). Sometimes I fear that for many of us may have put the value of our luxuries above the value of the people that grow and make them.
It may not be a perfect system, but when I contemplate our prayers for the world and our neighbour during intercession, our call for the reality of God to come “on earth as it is in heaven” and what our scriptures, prophets and Jesus have said about our treatment of “the other” it’s still a much better system that removes people’s God-given worth and denigrates them as slaves and people not worth fair treatment.
I’ll end my rant with one last question.
What does it mean for us as disciples of Jesus to pray for God’s Kingdom to come and share of the body and blood of Christ during worship to then go and share the product of an unfair system that uses slave labour with each other in the disguise of hospitality?
Please consider this when you’re purchasing tea, coffee, chocolate and other items for your morning and afternoon tea.