Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Why Fair Trade?

As you read in my 2010 goals, one of my environmental goals is to work towards purchasing of more fair-trade items. Truth be told, if I am not willing to pay the fair price for an item, then I probably do not need it.

So-- why fair-trade? Why now? [Not so] Oddly enough, I read a book titled Red Letter Christians: A Citizens Guide to Faith and Politics by Tony Campolo, which had me shaking my head yes a lot (admittedly sometimes no too). Leaving what I did and did not like behind, I have to say there was one area in which I felt especially convicted by my own actions...or inaction... and that is when he discussed minimum wage and fair-trade. When I read this line--
"But isn't it time for Christians to admit that we should reject bargains if they are gained by the exploitation of the poorest of the poor in developing countries? Isn't it time for Red Letter Christians to state loud and clear that we are willing to buy less in order that justice for oppressed workers can become increasingly possible?"
-- all I could do was shake my head and asnwer, "yes, of course!" However, as if that challenging question was not throught provoking enough, scripture backs up this call in James 5:1-4 (hence Sunday's Perfect Pairing):
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.
Some might argue that the workers make good money for the country they are living in, but when exploring the difference between market driven wages and that which is called for in the Bible, I cannot in good conscience continue to purchase the way I have in the past. Paying a worker $5 per day while selling a shirt for $30 when the worker produces many shirts per day is unreasonable and unfair.

Laissez-faire economics has long been a problem for me, and I think it has been obvious on this blog. The market, especially in unregulated capitalism, fails to capture anything that is not a dollar (externalities, such as the environment, etc), and when it comes to minimum wage and fair-trade, this is not the exception but the rule.

Without getting in to the complexities of economics, I will summarize my position as this-- When I purchase items that are not fair-trade, I am supporting companies withholding wages from their workers, and that is no longer tolerable for me. Certainly there will be some items where a fair-trade solution is not available, and in those cases, I will definitely need to think and pray hard about whether or not we need that item in our family. I expect that the transition will be slow, but hopefully I will also find some great items to share with you all.

If you buy just one fair-trade item, you are making a difference. I hope some of you will join me down this path.


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