Fair Trade Church

fairtradeDo you think that your congregation would be in favour of buying products made by companies that pay starvation wages, routinely use child labour or insist on unfair trading terms? No, probably not. So why is it that so many churches continue to buy tea and coffee made by companies that do all of these things?

A quick internet search will show that some of the biggest tea and coffee manufacturers (brands that are often seen in church kitchens) pay some of their workers less than $2 per day, have used child slave labour and have fired workers for protesting about unsafe working conditions. Surely churches everywhere should be taking a stand against such practices. Even if it were difficult to do, congregations should be leading the way, but, in reality, by simply buying Fairtrade tea and coffee, a congregation is making a positive statement about what is and is not acceptable.

The Ethical Consumer website produces an Ethical Consumer Score Table. Which instant coffee has the lowest score on this table? Possibly the most popular brand of all, Nescafe, with a worrying 1 out of 20 (Cafedirect, a Fairtrade coffee, tops the list with 16/20). Twinings has the “honour” of last place for tea with a paltry 2.5 out of 20 (Tetley has a poor 6). The highest score is Equal Exchange, a Fairtrade tea, with 17 out of 20.

What is it that makes Fairtrade products fair? When you buy a Fairtrade product (one displaying the “Fairtrade Mark”), you are supporting farmers and workers as they work to improve their lives and their communities. The Mark means that the Fairtrade ingredients in the product have been produced by small-scale farmer organisations or plantations that meet Fairtrade social, economic and environmental standards. The standards include the protection of workers’ rights and the environment, payment of an agreed minimum price (a living wage) and an additional Fairtrade Premium for the community to invest in the business or in community projects. Fairtrade also offers rural families the stability of income that enables them to plan for the future.

When questioned, reasons that people often give for not buying Fairtrade products are: “they are too expensive”; “I don’t like Fairtrade products”; “do the producers really benefit?” and “shouldn’t we be supporting UK farmers instead of farmers overseas?” All have fairly simple answers.

Fairtrade products are not too expensive. Many Fairtrade products, and especially tea and coffee, are no more expensive (sometimes actually cheaper) than the major brands but, even where they cost a little more, is this really too much for a church to pay to ensure that the producer is not exploited?
People who “don’t like Fairtrade” have often tried a Fairtrade tea or coffee some years ago and didn’t like it. Things have moved on. There are now over 4,500 Fairtrade products and there is a range of Fairtrade tea and coffee available at all UK supermarkets (including Tesco, Sainsbury, The Co-op, Morrisons, Lidl and Aldi) not to mention independent shops and organisations like Traidcraft. If you don’t like one Fairtrade brand, try another; there are dozens out there!

The producers do see the benefits. I have had the privilege of meeting two Fairtrade producers, a banana farmer and a coffee farmer, and both confirmed the massive difference that Fairtrade has made and continues to make to their lives and the lives of their community. There are some unscrupulous companies out there and although having one or two Fairtrade products in their range does not, by itself, convert a large multinational company into an ethical saint, you can be sure that at least the producers of the Fairtrade products are getting a fair deal.

And, finally, we certainly should be supporting UK farmers – I am, after all, married to one! There are, however, very few Fairtrade foods that compete directly with UK products so please buy UK produced food wherever you can. Although UK farmers have been through some tough times (and in some cases are still experiencing very low prices), our children still go to school, we have good health care and have clothes and shoes unlike many Fairtrade farmers and producers. It is perfectly possible to buy Fairtrade and still support UK farmers – please do.

So, what should your congregation do?
Firstly, please raise the use of Fairtrade products with your congregation and ask them to agree to use Fairtrade products whenever possible at all church functions and meetings. In addition, make it known that you are doing so and why.

Secondly, and following closely thereafter, follow this link to find out how easy it is to become a Fairtrade Church and take that small step too. If you have decided to use Fairtrade products at church events, you are most of the way to becoming a Fairtrade Church anyway!

Matthew Aitken
Dunscore Church