Anytime someone mentioned “fair trade” or “sweat-free” (no sweatshop labor), my eyes would glaze over … partly out of ignorance and partly out of a sense of being overwhelmed. Yes, I was one of those people. My hunch is that many of us are like that. We don’t want to support the injustices of our economic system and yet we see no other way to live – getting informed and getting involved just seems so daunting. We don’t know where to begin. Well, this past week, something finally pushed me into action. I was preparing a talk for Veritas on the last few sections of the book of James and came across these verses: “Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. (James 5:4-5)” As I read those verses, I just couldn’t get away from the question: am I enjoying a certain standard of living and cheap prices on certain products at the expense of someone else? As I did some research on fair trade, the only honest answer was yes, yes I was. The reason I am able to enjoy certain purchases at certain prices is because certain farmers and certain workers are being cheated in the process. For example, the average coffee farmer only gets $0.25 per pound from the middlemen that facilitate much of our coffee industry. That $0.25 per pound does not even cover what it costs the farmer to produce it. This means that the average poor farmer only gets $0.04 cents from our $3.99 mocha. This is injustice. This is the kind of thing that James was addressing in his letter – whenever we are a part of withholding fair wages from workers, we are a part of injustice. James says that this type of injustice gets the attention of the “Lord of hosts” (a title for God emphasizing his frighteningly great power as He comes with a host of angelic warriors to eliminate evil and set up justice). You and I don’t want to be the oppressors when the Lord of hosts is coming! Although I realize that the issue of unjust wages for workers goes much farther than just coffee farmers, purchasing products that are certified “fair trade” is one small practical way that we can do justly. Products with the “fair trade” label have been purchased from farmers at a fair price, usually triple to quadruple the normal price. These prices not only enable these farmers to continue their work but provide enough profit for them to support their families, improve housing and health care, and often keep their children in school. In short, it helps break a cycle of poverty and injustice! Although the products can be more costly, it is obviously worth it! Fair trade is not just limited to coffee; other fair trade certified products such as tea, chocolate, dishes, art, jewelry, toys, etc. can also be purchased. The Mustard Seed on 9th Street next to Kaldi’s is a recently opened shop devoted entirely to supporting and selling fair trade products. Many of the coffee shops in town also offer fair trade certified coffees. There’s even a Sam’s Choice fair trade coffee at Wal-Mart! With fair trade certified products becoming more and more available, we can’t just look the other way anymore. We can’t allow the immensity of the problem to paralyze us from acting. Purchasing fair trade products is one simple and practical step toward justice.
Here’s a very informative 8 minute video that will introduce you to Fair Trade:
To find a short listing of stores that carry fair trade products:
“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.” Proverbs 14:31