Fairtrade or Aid?

This is the second week of Fairtrade fortnight, 2 weeks of promoting and talking about issues around fairtrade. I'm sure if we all purchased fair trade for 2 weeks the impact would be enormous. But these are really choices we should be making every day of the year.
Many synagogues have taken this on board and become 'fair trade' synagogues - ensuring all tea, coffee, sugar etc. is fair trade, and fairtrade the brand have themselves acknowledged this with resources aimed specifically at the Jewish community:



The problem starts once we wander out of the tea aisle in the supermarket, particularly (but by no means uniquely) when we find ourselves in the clothing aisle. Many Jews who arrived in the UK in the nineteenth century worked in the garment industry in the east end of London, the majority of whom worked in dingy, sweat shop style industries, earning pennies and living in poverty. Many in the early twentieth century were 'shmatterers' - clothes sellers, trying to make ends meet in the clothing industry. Today the industrial side of the clothing industry is largely something done elsewhere. Out of sight, out of mind.

The Torah of course has wisdom to offer on this, with the obvious textual starting point for me being Deuteronomy 16:20 'Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live'; we must pursue justice for all because when we are complicit it affects our lives too; just as we communally repent on Yom Kippur, we are responsible for the justice of the world. In the Torah the industry and business ethics described are generally much more immanent than today. Even the heads of multinational companies aren't all that keen to go visit their factories abroad as demonstrated by Michael Moore when he met the head of Nike.

But when things were closer to home, the ethics of business and dealing with your neighbours and money were important to get right. In Exodus 22:26 we are told that if you take your neighbours cloak as a pledge you must return it to them by sunset, whether he/she has repaid their debt; you cannot leave your neighbour cold, or going without their basic needs, even if they owe you. I know there are plenty of things in my wardrobe that I picked up excitedly because they were such a bargain. How often did this mean the maker/s went without? 

Of course the rabbis went further in considering day to day business ethics,and the Jewish Association of Business Ethics has produced a series of Yom Kippur pamphlets drawing on these, encouraging employers to do better, as well as employees to fulfill their obligations, not using employers time to do personal business for example (and my blog readers vanish to go and do some work :) ). I'm not going to link to their pamphlets as they've made a point of excluding Reform voices and Rabbis from their functioning, but I'm sure you can find them! One of the most obvious rabbinic ideas from Rambam (Moses Maimonides) in his 8 levels of charity. He argues that before a person becomes impoverished, one should help by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them to find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others (Rambam, Mishna Torah 10:7-15). It isn't charity and handouts that are being asked for, but the ability for the poor to transform themselves (sorry couldn't avoid plugging a mates fab charity), whatever society they find themselves in. Our enormous aid budget would perhaps be better spent on trade, and ensuring a fair deal for those who produce the products we consume at a vast rate. If we only purchased fairtrade clothes, accessories, furniture, niknaks etc, spending a little more each time, perhaps our aid budget would shrink, and our taxes with it. Or perhaps I am oversimplifying because I have a very limited grasp of economics! I'm sure you'll tell me!

Either way, on my current journey of minimal consuming (just over one month left to go) I've spent a lot of time considering my bad habits and wanting to do better. So I've decided to set myself a follow up challenge. As of April 10th, when I am 'allowed' to shop again, I'll be confining myself to the end of 2011 (and maybe beyond!) to only buying fairtrade or second hand goods (food aside as I already do this where possible). Of course many products are not unethical but don't state fair trade as they are from Europe etc. but it will mean needing to understand the origins of everything thoroughly, and often the only guarantee is firms own statements, so care will be taken! It will also mean buying less as it generally costs more, so each purchase will be more considered and necessary, and maybe harder to find, but consuming better, fairer, and more responsibly. I'm not sure if fairtrade underwear is available out there, but I'm going to have to find out, as I think that's the one thing I'm not prepared to buy second hand! Perhaps British produced undies?

So for fairtrade fortnight I hope we all enjoy our tea, coffee, sugar, choccies and bananas, but how we make the shift in the long term is much more important.


  1. http://www.greenfibres.com/product/productlist.aspx?page=1&term=bra





    (I like the last two sites!!)

  2. Thanks Abi! Brilliant!! Though the bra's aren't made for the larger breasted among us :)


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