The buying and selling of goods and services ideally allows those who work to earn a livable wage that supports all their families' needs. This is not always the case, though. Supporting fair trade practices both individually and through your religious organization can help workers get paid what their labor is worth.
When business owners or multinational corporations see an opportunity to earn more money, the temptation to do so is usually too great to deny, even if it means that they must keep workers at paupers' wages to increase their bottom line. Loopholes found in shoddy labor standards in many countries around the world exacerbate the problem. Work is outsourced to these countries, and because there is little to no protection for the farmers who grow the crops or artisans who produce the goods, corporations can get away with just about anything.
Even companies that claim to support fair trade often do so for the wrong reasons. One way to discern that this is probably what's happening is to look at the way they market their fair trade offerings. For example, leaders at a coffee company who truly understand the importance of fair trade at every point in the supply chain are more likely to not only look for the fair trade label but also work directly with farmer cooperatives to ensure that the extra 40% they're paying for the product is actually making it to the growers. If you can't tell where their products are grown by looking at the website, or if only a few of the many blends they offer carry the fair trade label, this is a good indication that they want to get credit for making ethical labor decisions without having to invest in the changes necessary to actually do so.
People of faith, however, are supposedly called to a higher standard. Just because unfair labor practices are common, that doesn't let consumers off the hook. It is possible to vote with your dollar, and it is an act of faith to support social justice initiatives such as fair trade whenever possible. The first step is to look at your purchasing habits. This step may be more uncomfortable for bargain hunters because consistently great deals for the consumer don't often result from a commitment to responsible labor standards. The money you save costs someone something, and it's not usually the CEO's paycheck that takes the hit. Increasing your awareness of how your buying choices affect those along the supply chain may be overwhelming, but it can also serve as motivation to look for better alternatives.
An Action Plan
Tracking every single product that goes into every single purchase you make so that you can choose the most ethical option each time you open your wallet would likely involve a giant upheaval in the way you live. While this noble goal is certainly worth the effort, it's okay to start small. Your daily cup of coffee or tea is a great place to begin. There are several ways you can do this:
- Be intentional about the coffee or tea you buy. You can usually find several fair trade options in almost any grocery store, or you can purchase them online from a reputable company such as Equal Exchange.
- Recommend fair trade options for your church's coffee hour. Many denominations already have their own fair trade programs or partnerships that can make the switch easier.
- Ask if you can set up a booth at your organization's next event to teach others about the importance of fair trade.
- Petition your favorite companies to make more ethical choices.
Fair trade is not ultimately a goal that one person or one family can meet alone. As people of faith band together to support companies that practice fair trade and encourage others to do the same, however, they have a better chance of disrupting the cycle of greed in many industries.