Fair Trade and Our Faith

“The basis for all that the Church believes about the moral dimensions of economic life is its vision of the transcendental worth—the sacredness—of human beings.”

  - Economic Justice for All

What does this mean in a society where the mantra “blessed are the rich” drowns out the Gospel message of “blessed are the poor”? Where we have been conditioned by the market and the media to believe that our worth as human beings is bound up in the value of stuff that we are able to accumulate?

Our faith calls us to explore who we are without all the stuff and discover how to use our material resources responsibly. Each time we make a purchase, we stamp our seal of approval on the item we buy, the working conditions of the people who made it, and the sustainability of the supply chain that brought it to us. With our right to participate in the market comes the responsibility to defend the inclusion and participation of others. The Fair Trade model offers us two primary ways of doing this:

  • Advocacy: Take action to change the unjust structures in our trading systems until they serve the common good rather than corporate greed. Do justice by holding our government and economic decision-makers accountable for the establishment of right relations with laborers, producers, and suppliers.

  • Ethical purchasing: Use your buying power to make a statement for social justice by purchasing and promoting Fair Trade items. Make your dollars your vote for an economic system that works for everyone.

In 2008 Pope Benedict XVI charged the world’s young people with an important mission:

“Do not be fooled by those who see you as just another consumer in a market of undifferentiated possibilities, where choice itself becomes the good, novelty usurps beauty, and subjective experience displaces truth.”

Fair Trade offers a possibility that is differentiated precisely by its investment in transparency and truth and its rejection of systems that exclude, exploit, and displace. In choosing to support Fair Trade we:

  • Exalt the HUMAN DIGNITY and defend the livelihood of all who work

  • Exercise a PREFERENTIAL OPTION for the poor and vulnerable

  • Act in SOLIDARITY with our brothers and sisters in need by committing to the common good

  • Ensure that farmers and artisans earn a JUST WAGE

  • Contribute to a more just DISTRIBUTION OF WEALTH

  • Apply the principle of SUBSIDIARITY by empowering small-scale producers

  • Promote responsible STEWARDSHIP of our limited and precious natural resources

In the words of Kwabena Ohmeng-Tinyase, a Fair Trade cocoa producer in Ghana:

“We all have to go shopping. Fair Trade is just shopping with respect.”

By Elizabeth Young
CRS Intern for the Office for Peace and Justice

How will you incorporate one of the principles listed above into your daily routine? How can we be witnesses to a human worth that is rooted in love and dignity rather than wealth and status?