Should I buy Fair Trade as a Christian?

Salvation is and has always been BOTH a spiritual and physical deliverance. In Judges 6:9, God identifies himself through a prophet as rescuer and deliverer – in a physical sense – for his people.

I rescued you from the hand of the Egyptians. And I delivered you from the hand of all your oppressors; I drove them out before you and gave you their land.

– Judges 6:9, referring to the enslavement of the nation of Israel in Egypt and the Exodus

While ancient Egypt is a valuable metaphor when taken as a symbol of slavery to sin, the Israelites suffered from real, literal slavery. And God really, literally delivered them from it. 

As Christians we have duties that – while not less than spiritual – are more than “just” spiritual. Jesus spoke often about “the Kingdom;” it was something “of Heaven” and yet also somehow “at hand.” It was (and continues to be) a future and present reality, something that we will only see fully consummated in the new creation, but something that we can nevertheless participate in whenever and wherever we make Jesus Christ our King.

Which is a complicated way of saying: believing in Jesus without it changing your behaviours or habits proves you don’t really believe in Jesus (faith without works is dead).

Justice, in fact, is kind of a theme in God’s word.

For I the Lord love justice; I hate robbery and wrong; Isaiah 61:8

Learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.  Isaiah 1:17

To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice. Proverbs 21:3

So let’s look a bit closer at Fair Trade.

When it comes to helping others, being unreflective often means being ineffective.

MacAskill, a Scottish Cambridge-and Oxford-trained philosopher, who likes “effective altruism,” a movement that has been called “generosity for nerds.” 

MacAskill makes a good point.

His views on Fair Trade, however, are fairly utilitarian:

…when you buy fair-trade, you usually aren’t giving money to the poorest people in the world. Fairtrade standards are difficult to meet, which means that those in the poorest countries typically can’t afford to get Fairtrade certification. For example, the majority of fair-trade coffee production comes from comparatively rich countries like Mexico and Costa Rica, which are ten times richer than the very poorest countries like Ethiopia.

For MacAskill, he would rather buy the cheapest products possible in order to be able to give more to worthy charities. And Fair Trade products are often more expensive.

Aiming to purchase the cheapest product possible (a virtue I grew up with) because you want to be able to “give more to people who deserve it” has serious flaws.

First: Our unending quest for the “cheapest” products drives up the demand for what is essentially slave labour (see: Joe Fresh, iPads).

It’s true that, for many workers, getting a job at a garment or sportswear factory is better than some of the alternatives – that is why so many depend on them. The fact that people are desperate isn’t an excuse to exploit them. […] millions of people are earning a wage. However, this alone is not enough to lift them from poverty if employers can hire and fire at will, deny union rights, pay low wages that drive people to work inhumane hours just to survive, avoid paying sick leave and avoid observing maternity rights. For many workers, these jobs carry devastating hidden costs, such as poor health, exhaustion and broken families, all of which are unacceptable and avoidable. Everyone wants and is entitled to a quality job that pays “just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his [or her] family an existence worthy of human dignity.” (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 23(3)).

From Top 10 Excuses for Not Paying a Living Wage

The problem with deciding who really deserves help: MacAskill suggests that ultimately he can decide who most deserves charity, a word which, in Christian terms, is synonymous with love. Christ, thank God, does not give to only those who deserve it, but “gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” God so loved the world … that he sent Jesus. It is in the pattern of Christ, in his footsteps that we give up our incredible privileges for the sake of others.

You will have to go with less, be that time or money, in order for others to have more.

Everything has a cost. Either the consumer pays it, or the worker. (- I have no idea who said this, but it’s amazing.)

And you can do it because Christ did it first:

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
     he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Phillipians 2

Fair Trade is not the be-all and end-all solution. But consider it one way you can make a difference. Alleviating poverty, increasing demand for sustainable farming practices and promoting fair wages and safe working conditions is important and makes a huge difference in the lives of those working there. 

For listen! Hear the cries of the field workers whom you have cheated of their pay. The cries of those who harvest your fields have reached the ears of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. – James 5:4

Do for one what you wish you could do for all.  – Andy Stanley

More info: Buy Fair (USA), Fairtrade (UK), (there wasn’t anything interesting enough to warrant linking to from Canada. Shame.)


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