What is fair trade? What is ethical shopping? What do these practices have to do with justice issues?
According to the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO), “Fair Trade is a trading partnership, based on dialogue, transparency and respect that seeks greater equity in international trade. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions to, and securing the rights of, marginalized producers and workers.”
Buying from companies that engage in fair trade practices is one form of ethical shopping. That’s easy when a company is fair trade certified by an organization like WFTO. However, it’s important to research a company’s business practices when looking for ethical shopping options. Some companies may operate under fair trade standards, but may lack formal fair trade certification, possibly due to company size or certification cost. Shopping secondhand is also considered ethical because it does not create new demand for a product and it keeps unused items out of landfills.
Luke 4 says that, after Jesus’ temptation in the desert, He went home to Nazareth in Galilee. While in the synagogue there, he picked up a scroll and read Isaiah’s prophecy concerning Him: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Isaiah 61:1-2, NIV)
In America’s antebellum history, slaves worked in plantation fields and performed domestic duties in their masters’ homes. Modern slavery looks a bit different. According to the International Labor Organization, modern slavery can be described as “…situations of exploitation that a person cannot refuse or leave because of threats, violence, coercion, deception, and/or abuse of power.” This can manifest itself in situations such as (but not limited to) forced labor, debt bondage, and forced marriage.
The International Justice Mission (IJM) estimates that, even though slavery is illegal in every country, there are currently 40 million slaves in the world today, more than at any other point in human history. The Global Slavery Index estimated that, in 2018, G20 countries annually imported $127.7 billion worth of garments potentially produced by slaves. These facts are our call to action.
Some of Jesus’ first words after his baptism and time in the desert were to announce in the synagogue that He came to proclaim freedom for the captives. Slavery – a life of captivity – still exists for millions today. What does that mean to those of us who have given our lives to Him and who deeply desire to live a life like His? One thing we can do is to carefully consider what we buy, how we buy, and how often we buy.
For instance, we could purchase five $5 t-shirts from a mass retailer that likely used slaves in the manufacturing process, or we could choose to purchase one $32 t-shirt from an ethical retailer like Elegantees, (www.elegantees.com). This company employs women rescued from sex trafficking, freed from modern slavery. Its seamstresses come from a local safe house in Nepal. These seamstresses are not only paid more than two times the local minimum wage, but they also work regular hours in a safe environment.
The process of changing your shopping habits will look different for everyone and every budget. My ethical fashion inspiration is Molly Stillman from the blog Still Being Molly. Recently, she discussed her own switch, a process that has taken about eight years. I haven’t fully transitioned to purchasing only fair and ethical items, but I am improving every day. I am also realistic, especially when it comes to my kids. I try to buy secondhand, but I also shop at The Children’s Place or Target. Realistically, there aren’t a lot of fair trade options for kids’ clothing, and those options may not fit comfortably within our family budget, especially considering how fast kids grow.
Recognizing that it isn’t always practical to buy new items from fair and ethical companies, I find myself following the old adage, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I sew patches on ripped jeans instead of buying new. I question needs versus wants (and answer myself honestly) before making a purchase. When my kids outgrow clothes, I check the thrift store before buying new.
This isn’t meant to shame anyone into changing habits. This is meant to educate and encourage. We can’t do better unless we know better. Start somewhere, give yourself grace, and remember it’s a marathon. We have the power to impact the world through our purchases, and I pray we use it wisely.
Take your first step in ethical shopping and visit Amplify Peace’s new marketplace at Amplify Marketplace. You can make a difference today by supporting fair traded products and artisans. This is our call to action.