There are many questions we must ask ourselves when making a purchase: Can I afford this? Do I really need/want it? Is it of good quality? There is one question, however, that many of us forget to ask ourselves: Would this purchase be a fair-trade?
“Fair Trade” is probably a term you’ve heard a few times lately. Before you write it off as a passing fad, let’s think about what it actually means. Fair-trade is exactly what it sounds like, a trade that is fair. When you were a kid, you probably traded things with your siblings, cousins or classmates. You may have even had rules. One candy bar equals two sheets of stickers. Five minutes on the tire swing equals half an apple. These were, in the terms of children, “fair” trades. Somewhere in there, I’d imagine, you also experienced an unfair trade. You never got your half of the apple, or you were called back into class before your turn on the tire swing or your sister got to go to the zoo with her class and you just got a babysitter. This is the kind of trade most common in today’s economy. The unfair trade.
If you look at the tags on your clothes or track the ingredients in your favorite foods, you’ll probably find that most of what we consume comes from countries other than the North America and Europe. Most of what Americans and Europeans purchase is produced elsewhere, and usually by the lower class, often under grim circumstances. When you find something for a really good deal at Target or Walmart, ask yourself who is paying for that item. It isn’t you. Surely your five dollars cannot pay for the yarn, cotton, dye and labor that went into that cute sweater. So who is paying for it? The store from which you purchased it? No. It’s the artisan who is paying. The artisan who is creating a product for little or no pay.
Perhaps you are wondering what this has to do with you or why Kindred Grace would care suddenly about the economy. Well, I am no economist, but I am a Christ-follower and the Bible is surprisingly outspoken about fair-trade. Take a look…
Proverbs 22:16 says,
“Whoever oppresses the poor to increase his own wealth, or gives to the rich, will only come to poverty.”
“But whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors Him.”
“Masters, treat your bondservants justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a master in heaven.”
These are just a few of the verses we can find about oppressing the poor for our own advantage (such as a $5 T-shirt) and fair treatment of employees. The book of Amos is packed with fodder for this topic, including in chapter eight, verse six where it says that the rich “buy the needy for a pair of sandals.”
A desperate person will work for any amount of money or, as is the case for many around our world, for no monetary pay at all. Many people work as slaves today, paid only in food or shelter. As a matter of fact, there are more slaves today than in the times of the Bible, or of African slave trade to Europe and the United States, or any other time in history. Experts estimate approximately 27 million people are enslaved today.
You see, this issue is one of economy and politics, but the greater issue is spiritual. Are we, as Christ-followers, willing to honor God and obey Scripture, even if that means not buying the things we want? I have found it difficult to avoid buying items I know are supporting “unfair” trades or even slavery (such as Apple, Hershey’s etc.). I have found it nearly impossible to be 100% fair-trade in all my purchases. This is not an excuse to ignore the issue. Here are a few ways I’ve found to replace my unfair choices with fair ones and to be kind and generous and helpful to my brothers and sisters in the rest of the world.
1. When it comes to chocolate, get radical.
Chocolate is probably the #1 most documented unfair industry. Most of the chocolate companies you are familiar with (anything sold at general stores, most things sold at supermarkets) purchase at least some of their cocoa from farms on the Ivory Coast in Africa where child slavery runs rampant. These children are not part of the family business. Many of them are kidnapped from other African countries in order to be used as slaves on cocoa farms. There is a great series of videos about this particular issue here. Because of this great issue, I try to avoid all chocolate that is not fair-trade certified. (Note: if something is fair-trade, they will want you to know. Look for this emblem on your chocolates!) This in and of itself has been difficult! Sometimes I still buy a pie or order a latte and realize I’m probably eating chocolate that isn’t fair-trade, but for the most part, I’ve found alternatives.
So far, my very favorite fair-trade chocolate for those “need chocolate now” moments is Green&Black’s (their almond bar in particular!). Their chocolate bars are sold in ordinary grocery stores, usually in the organic section.
I get our cocoa powder from Frontier and am very happy with how our cookies, cakes and chocolate syrup taste fair-trade! We are only at the beginning of our fair-trade chocolate chip journey (looking for something we can buy locally), but have really enjoyed Sunspire chocolate chips already.
You will notice that fair-trade chocolate is quite a bit more expensive than ordinary chocolate. Think about it. You are actually paying the real cost of chocolate now instead of having a child pay with their childhood. Fair-trade isn’t expensive, it’s actual price. And another plus is, fair-trade is often organic and, in my opinion, tastier!
2. Think fair when giving gifts!
There is really no easier way to go fair-trade than in your gift-giving. A gift has special meaning when it goes to support a single mom in Haiti or a sex-slave rescue from Nepal. Besides, these gifts are handmade and completely unique. We can’t hope for a “fair” world if we don’t support the companies that are actually making this happen. Think about the individuals behind your next gift.
Haitian Creations is a place I couldn’t recommend more highly. Work is very hard to come by for women of Port-Au-Prince, Haiti. Many Haitians are forced to resort to becoming slaves (often called “restavecs“), beggars or prostitutes in order to buy food or pay rent. When you are a mom, especially a single mom, with no education, the future is even grimmer. Haitian Creations is a program which teaches women how to sew and bond (make jewelry) and gives them the option of selling through their online store. They create purses, diaper bags, jewelry and metal artwork. Their metal trees are my favorite!
Tiny Hands International is another amazing program. Tiny Hands’ main mission is to prevent human trafficking between the Nepalese and Indian boarder, to restore kidnapping victims to their families and to get ex-slaves back on their feet. Their work is really beautiful (you can read more about it here) as is the work of the girls who create and sell their handiwork through Tiny Hands online store. There you can find one-of-a-kind jewelry, fleeces, T-shirts, scarves and purses!
And if you ever want to give someone the gift of comfy new pajamas, look no further than Punjammies! These really beautiful pajamas are made by women who have escaped forced prostitution in India. When you buy a pair of Punjammies for you or as a gift, you are showing a woman in India that there is a better life for her and supporting her in her next step away from slavery. There’s really nothing so empowering to womankind than the option of reputable business.
3. Learn what to avoid, and commit to making small sacrifices
This might be the hardest part of giving your money to God. If you want to support fair trading, you have to accept the fact that much of what is available to us in the developed world supports dishonesty, unsafe working conditions and even slavery. You can learn more about “must-to-avoids” in books like The Better World Shopping Guide and online research. Also remember that, though it does not support the fair-trade stores like I listed above, it’s always better to shop locally and buy products made in the U.S.A. (or another developed country) than to buy from a company you know to be oppressive, such as these 5 Giant Companies Who Use Slave Labor.
As you start your fair-trade journey, remember that you are doing this to honor our Maker (Proverbs 14:31) and that any kind deed you do to another, you are doing to Christ. The sacrifices you make will seem great at first, but will wilt in view of your many blessings. It is worth it to pay the actual price in order to not oppress one of God’s children. It is worth it to educate yourself about where your money is actually going. It is worth it to be fair.
(Find more helpful scripture verses here.)