This secondary assembly looks at the concept of fair trade, with reference to the recent ‘Fairtrade Fortnight’ which took place from 22nd February to 7th March.

Resources

  • 3 Readers
  • Suggested OHP: “The fields of the poor may produce abundant food, but injustice sweeps it away.” Proverbs 12:13

Engagement

Leader: Most of us visit a shop at least once a day – buying everything from chocolate to bananas to something new to wear. Obviously we need money to do this. We work expecting to earn enough money to buy what we need.

This passage comes from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 25.1:

Reader 1: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family…..

Reader 2: ….. including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security….”

Reader 3: The amount of money that people need to earn to achieve this standard of living varies according to where a person lives. It’s known as the ‘living wage’.

In parts of the developing world, wages are sometimes not enough to cover basic needs. Many of you may have been aware of the ‘Fairtrade Fortnight’ that was launched on 22nd of February and was organised by the Fairtrade Foundation. It included many events open to the public to raise awareness about the need for fairer trading practises.

One event was the banana eating event on the 6th-7th of March where around 400,000 people ate a free trade banana over a period of 24 hours – the world’s greatest banana eating event! So what’s the difference between a fair trade banana and any other kind? And what’s it got to do with you?

Listen to these stories to find out.

Reader 1: My name is Sara. I am 12 years old. I work in a factory sewing clothes that get sent to shops in the UK. I live in Dhaka, in Bangladesh. People must have a lot of money in the UK because we produce so many garments every day here and thousands of them must be sold every day. I get the equivalent of about £22.40 a month in UK pounds. I don’t know much the clothes I make sell for…

Reader 2: My name is Runa. I have a six month old baby. I cannot afford to feed him on my wages from the factory because I don’t make enough money. My mother looks after him in the village I come from. It is forty miles away and so I do not get to see him very often. I work very hard and I am so tired by the end of the day that I fall asleep as soon as I get home.

Reader 3: I work in a banana plantation, sorting through bananas. The plantation is owned by a multi-national company. I have to walk ten miles to get here every day and sometimes I don’t finish until it’s dark. When I get home, my wife has done her best to make me and our three children a meal. I don’t earn very much and, by the end of the week, sometimes we don’t have enough left to eat.

Reflection

Unfortunately, to people in third world countries, these are familiar stories. People often work very hard for very little reward. The Fairtrade organisation therefore works hard to get a fairer deal for workers like these – people who work in sweatshops for low wages, and for farmers and food growers in the developing world who help to supply us with goods in the UK. Many people are still being exploited by large companies that pay the workers at the beginning of the chain low wages and end up making vast profits when the product is sold. An item of clothing, for instance, sewn by a factory worker in Bangladesh for as little as 7 pence an hour, could easily be sold for anything from £10 – £100 or more in a shop in the UK.

Workers are often in a position where a complaint for better wages and conditions would lead to dismissal. Fairtrade aims to get them decent working conditions and local sustainability, and to ensure that they get fair terms of trade so that the prices they are paid for their goods never fall beneath the market prices. A reasonable wage is one that covers both the basic needs of the worker – and is enough for dependents – like Runa’s baby – to be able to live as well.

Cocoa is the raw ingredient for all the chocolate products that we love to eat! Recently, Cadbury’s decided to commit to Fairtrade and are hoping to achieve certification by the end of the summer this year. This will really help the farmers that grow the cacao for them in Ghana. However, although the concept of Fairtrade is catching on, difficult conditions still exist for many people and there is still too much unfairness in the way that profits are distributed.

The banana trade is also enormous, and is now profitable for almost everyone involved in their growth and distribution. 70 million tons of them are grown and transported to shops around the world every year by workers in Africa, South Asia, the Caribbean and Latin America – many of them small scale famers.

For many years, this trade was dominated by huge international companies who didn’t treat the workers fairly. They often cared far more about their profits than their workers, not worrying about their standards of living. The workers had no say in their conditions, and people often found that their standard of living could drop with no reason given. There was a huge unrealistic and unreasonable gap between the wages of the workers and the profits of the companies they worked for.

Oxfam has done a huge amount of work to get these companies to guarantee fair prices to these people – and, at last, after a long campaign, they’ve persuaded some supermarkets, like Waitrose and Sainsbury’s, to sell only fair trade bananas. These bananas, like a growing number of other goods, have the Fairtrade logo on their label and are guaranteed to come from farmers who work in good conditions and who are paid a fair wage.

Response

We tend to develop ideas as we grow up about whether we feel that something is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. These decisions become the morals that we live our lives by. Sometimes, unfortunately, we are unaware of injustices – or we choose too ignore them. Do you think it is morally right for companies still take advantage of people, so that they can sell the products they work hard to make for a huge profit? [Pause]

Many of us have, until recently, been completely unaware of this issue. Most of us have bought items in the shops presuming that the people who made them were paid fairly for their work. It’s much harder to be comfortable with this presumption now because there are people who work hard to increase awareness. Not only has there been the Freetrade Fortnight recently, but there have also been documentaries on television and articles in the press which have highlighted the situation.

It’s perhaps too easy to presume that we, as individuals, can do nothing to change things that we disagree with – especially if they are happening hundreds of miles away. Recently evidence has come to light, however, that people in this country are being exploited illegally too. So – is there anything we can do about it? [Pause]

One thing we can all do is to look for the Fairtrade mark and buy them whenever we can. Another thing we can do is to ask shops to stock fair trade goods if we can’t find them, and to ask clothes shops where their products are manufactured. Perhaps, if we behave in a caring and responsible way, we might be able to help to stamp out exploitation altogether.

[The following can be used as a prayer or meditation]

Reader 1: We hope that we will find the courage to shop responsibly and with awareness – and to be informed about the things we buy.

Reader 2: We hope to feel empathy with all people in the world who have less than we do and to do what we can to improve their situations.

(Amen)

Useful links

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Jaki Miles-Windmill

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