March 2009

Is it worth it?

I was doing the grocery shopping a few weeks ago. Being in the fruit and veg isle, I grabbed a bag of apples, some mandarins (or were they clementines or satsumas?) and of course some bananas, Fair Trade of course.

I was thinking about the fact that of all the grocery shopping a family of four like ours consumes, what a small percentage is fairly traded. And then I wondered, does it really make a difference?

It so happened that the latest issue of Reform arrived that weekend. Since its revamp in the middle of last year it has become an excellent magazine with many thought provoking articles, as well as information about the URC and the wider church in Britain and the world. (Yes, that was a plug for Reform, if you don’t have access to a copy you should seriously think about it and talk to our agent Roy Headley).

Anyway, an article in the February Reform informed us that the sugar giant Tate and Lyle is switching its entire range of sugar cane based products to Fair Trade. And the result for the 6000 sugar producers in Belize?

“This first year of becoming part of Fairtrade has meant a lot of tangible benefits. With the fair-trade premium the farmers have been able to invest in more sustainable methods of sugar cane farming, purchasing fair-trade approved herbicides, repairing access roads and crop damage caused by tropical storms. They have also bought school books, clothing and footwear for primary school children as well as starting a school meal programme.”

7.5 million farmers, workers and their families in 58 counties benefit from being part of Fairtrade. But set against the 2 billion people in this world who struggle to survive on $2 or less per day, Fair trade seems to be a drop in the ocean set against such mind numbingly large numbers.

I’m reminded of the examples that Jesus gave. He suggested in Matthew’s gospel that we are to be salt and yeast and light. Small things that transform far more than their size would suggest.

Every time I choose Fairtrade over ‘normal’ goods, I’m aligning myself with those who believe that what we see isn’t all there is. Every time I donate a fiver to Christian Aid or a similar organisation, I’m allying myself with the sure hope that positive change is possible, that the status quo isn’t a given.

Jesus once said the Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed; quite small, even insignificant, but growing to exceed all rational expectations.