Thursday, January 1, 2015

A Fair Price to Pay

I can remember when I was in high school, going to see the new Spider-man 3 movie (the 2007 version with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst). We were ecstatic, not only to see the movie, which we knew would rock our world, but more importantly because we would get to go to Taco Bell.

Why was this such an occasion? Because in our household, my mother had enacted a ban on Taco Bell, which had been in place for at least the past year. A ban, you say? What for? Taco Bell was not paying its tomato pickers a living wage. A boycott had been organized by the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, an advocacy group made up of Florida farm workers (mostly tomato farmers), and had received national attention.

At the time my brother and sister and I could not understand why anyone would want to boycott our favorite fast food place. But now, years wiser, I regret not having respected my mom's ideals. She truly understood the importance of valuing another person's life, and participating in non-violent protest as a way of fighting for what she knew was right. My mother was, and still is, a social activist, and I am proud to say that I am following in her footsteps. 

Many of you have probably heard of the concept of fair trade. Fair trade items are products that are produced through a sustainable line of companies that have passed certain regulations in regards to safe labor practices, providing workers with a living wage, and not using slave labor in the creation of their products. The goal of Fair Trade is to help producers achieve more humane conditions for workers, as well as environmental and economic sustainability. An overwhelming majority of big name brands and industries in the United States do not practice fair trade principles (and sadly, many individuals who are educated about corporate injustices remain indifferent).

For the past few years, as my consumer conscience has grown, and I am continually horrified by the inhumane practices of large corporations in this country, I admit that I have not spoken out enough. Even this meager post about fair trade is such a tiny step to demanding justice, to protesting for the fair treatment of hard-working people, whether American or of other nationalities, who every day are subjected to harsh conditions and wages too low to survive on. It is time to speak out for change. It is time to act.

A few weeks ago, during our quarterly meeting with the other Global Mission Fellows in the Generation Transformation Program, we discussed our responsibility to creation care and how we are called to act out against over-consumption and exploitation. This conversation left me pondering how I could use my small influence to improve the chances for a better, just life for others.

Because of this commitment, and my firm belief that God created each one of us to stand up for human rights, I have decided to take a very small step as my New Year's Resolution for 2015. My declaration is this (and I hope that you will hold me accountable to it):

This year, I resolve to not buy ANY chocolate or coffee that is not certified as Fair Trade.

We all vote with our dollars. My dollar, in this small way at least, will not support companies that exploit the vulnerable and the poor. I realize that in other ways, I will still inadvertently sustain the evil of slavery with my credit card, as I buy that shirt or cellphone. I hope that in the future I can say that I have actively sought out alternatives in these areas as well, but for now, this is my small step. I share my decision with you today, not to brag or boast, but because I wish to encourage you in doing the same, in your own small way. Because, as Mother Teresa famously said, "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love."

Why decide to buy fair trade, when it's more expensive? I think it is a fair price to pay, for those who pick the coffee beans, for those who process the cocoa, for those who package it all into bags and bars to sell. Will you choose to pay a price that is fair?

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