Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Fair Trade

There's been a small debate at our church about using Fair Trade coffee at our coffee hours and other functions. Some of us want to use the coffee but others claim they don't like the taste. I don't drink coffee so I don't know what tastes good and what doesn't. Tonight at our congregational council meeting I'm planning to offer a compromise. I don't want to get into a big debate. I've stated my position, that this is a justice issue. I don't think some people get it. What I'll propose is that we make Fair Trade coffee as well as the usual grocery store stuff they've been using available and let the coffee hour hosts choose what they'll use.

I wrote a column for the local paper on the topic of Fair Trade. Here it is below.

"The field of the poor may yield much food, but it is swept away through injustice" (Proverbs 13:23).

In Africa there are children working as slaves picking cocoa beans. A U.S. State Department study claims that in the Côte d’Ivoire, the world’s largest cocoa producer, about 15,000 children have been sold into slavery on cocoa, cotton, and coffee plantations in recent years. That’s in only one cocoa producing country. These enslaved children spend as many as 12 hours a day working the cocoa fields and thus are not receiving an education that might help them break free of the poverty their families experience.

In Central and South America smaller coffee farmers are falling further and deeper into debt because the price of coffee on the world markets is too low for them to recover their costs. Larger coffee plantations destroy forests to plant coffee and, in order to make a profit with the low coffee prices, they pay their labourers very little.

So what do you do? Are you forced to choose between either giving up chocolate and coffee forever or being an active contributor to child and worker exploitation? Fortunately there is an alternative.

Fair Trade is a concept the origins of which reach back to the early 1970s. Unfortunately it’s a concept that’s not widely known. Fair Trade helps farmers help themselves. It guarantees a fair and stable price to producers of cocoa, coffee, tea, sugar, and other products. Here we have laws, and in some places unions, that protect people from unfair labour practices but in many parts of the world people don’t have that kind of protection. Buying Fair Trade is a way to help poor and vulnerable people, who we’ll never meet or know, to find security and economic self-sufficiency.

You’d have a hard time finding Fair Trade products in most grocery stores. A lot is available to order online and you can find stores here and there that do sell Fair Trade products. Maybe if enough people were to ask for Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, or tea then more would become available. If it’s Fair Trade it will say so on the label

Now I’m a pastor and I began this column with a verse from scripture and what kind of religious man would I be if I didn’t connect the concept of Fair Trade with our faith? "Thou shalt buy Fair Trade" is far from being the 11th Commandment but buying and supporting Fair Trade can certainly be relevant to faith. The Bible talks a lot about justice and help for the poor. In the 21st century there’s no reason why we have to accept the poverty and injustice that are so common in our world. Buying or not buying Fair Trade might not impact our salvation. Supporting Fair Trade is not a law or commandment we have to follow. But it’s a small and simple way to let our lights shine while working to bring about justice in our world.

So start your morning off with a hot cup of coffee. And give in to that chocolate craving. But try making it Fair Trade and spread the word.


Lutheran Zephyr said...

The things we argue about, eh?

Alicia said...

For those of you who are interested in the issue of Fair trade, there is a powerful documentary out called “Black Gold,” that documents the lives of Ethiopian coffee farmers and clearly demonstrates why all of us should be asking for Fair Trade coffee. The film was recently released in the theater but is now available to the public on DVD via California Newsreel. You can read more about the documentary or pick up a copy of it here at