Most likely, you have been seeing this symbol around a lot more lately. The desire for “fair trade” items is growing in the United States, but what exactly is fair trade? Wikipedia states: “Fair trade is an organized social movement and market-based approach to alleviating global poverty and promoting sustainability.” Surprisingly, the fair trade movement began with religious groups (God bless the Mennonites) who saw that laborers around the world were often treated unfairly and paid very small amounts for their hard work. The wealthy people of the world wanted their tea, sugar, and rice, and they wanted it cheap.
Over the years, international religious, development aid, social and environmental organizations worked together to develop fair trade standards for items produced around the world. Currently, items sold in the U.S. and Canada that meet these standards are labeled with the fair trade logo (seen above). Fair trade organizations make sure that fair trade businesses promote these practices (this information was taken from Wikipedia:
- Alleviating poverty among producers and their communities
- Transparency and accountability for fair and respectful businesses policies
- Building workers’ independence
- Paying workers a fair price
- Protecting the environment
- Paying and treating men and women equally
- Providing a safe working environment for workers
Shopping for fair trade items is really simple. Just look for the label. If it’s there you know that the workers who grew your coffee, harvested your bananas, or wove your basket were treated ethically and paid a good wage. Fair trade items usually cost more so why buy them? Well, as a follower of Jesus, I believe that God has placed His image on every human being.
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27
Jesus also taught that the way that I treat others reflects the way that I treat Him.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:34-40
I may not be standing right next to that person, but when I purchase a t-shirt made by a poor, hungry sweatshop worker, I am promoting a system that keeps that person downtrodden. Obviously, we can’t always know how the products we buy were made, but when there is a choice to purchase a product knowing that the person was treated fairly and paid well…to me there really isn’t a choice. If the item costs too much, maybe I don’t really need it or maybe I can cut something else out of my life to make sure that the dollars I spend are helping, rather than harming, others.
What I love about the whole fair trade movement is that is is a partnership among groups of people who normally exist very separate from one another: Christians working with Muslims working with environmentalist hippies working with businessmen working with farmers. That’s just incredible! Can’t you just see the kingdom of heaven moving and shaking, bringing different people together to serve the weak and hurting in the world?!
In the coming weeks, I will write more about specific items that can be purchased via fair trade.
Learn more about or shop fair trade: