October was Fair Trade month. All month I meant to put something up here about my thoughts on fair trade. Better late then never!
For some time I have been making a concerted effort to only purchase items that are sweat-shop/abuse free. The idea started with a simple question from our eldest, at the time 3 years old, "Who made my shoes?" The shoes came from Target and were made in China. My response was, "People working in a factory in China." The conversation continued with requests from him to visit China and see the factory where the shoes were made. Then we moved on, but in my mind I could not stop thinking about the "who" and the conditions under which that person worked.
In thinking about this person who suffered unknown injustices to make a pair of cheap shoes for my son, I felt complicit in their abuse. The obvious next step was to avoid this in the future. The question was and is, "How?"
So far, it has not been possible for me. Despite high ideals, I have all kinds of loop-holes and exceptions. Abuse of persons in the third world is frightenly common in our ordinary life. In our house two simple, yet significant, steps reduce participation in that abuse. First, we buy second hand as much as possible. The item's origin might have been a sweatshop, but our money is not supporting systemic abuse. Second we buy fair trade coffee and cocoa/chocolate. Coffee and cocoa are widely sold at prices that cannot support even remotely just practices. A few extra dollars for these luxuries prevents our money from driving a farmer deeper into debt or supporting the routine kidnapping of boys for labor.
These steps are not going to change the world, but they can bring about solidarity. We cannot avoid every level of abuse in our society. It is barely possible to avoid the abuses we are aware of let alone the ones of which we never even hear. Yet giving up and saying there is nothing that can be done is not an option for a person of conscience. Something must be done; something that says "I will not participate in the suffering of my brothers and sisters." These things are our small way of saying that. Hopefully, we will grow toward greater solidarity as we relearn how to shop.
Dorothy Day explained this much better than I ever could. I will try to locate her words on the subject and share them here, but until then I have a few more things to say on this subject, which I will save for another day.