This article of mine was published on ‘thesheepdip’ this month.
I have managed to convert the intro scenario into a short sketch for church during FT fortnight, and also a talk at youth group… nifty!
The Two Shops
You live in a small town. It has only two shops. Both shops stock everything you need, from food and toiletries through to clothing and electrical equipment.
One shop, ‘Cheapstore’ has a reputation for treating its producers, factory and store staff, badly. Very badly. Producers and employees are poorly paid. The working conditions are appalling. Some have witnessed workers being beaten, even children, whom they seem to have no qualms about employing. Whoever complains gets immediate dismissal. Most, if not all, of those employed by Cheapstore, live in poverty, and can’t see any hope for the future. Depression is also rife, as is suicide.
The other shop, ‘People R Us’ attempts to pay its producers and staff a fair wage. The working conditions are as good as they can be. All employees are part of a union which meets together regularly to check that things are as they should be, or, if they’re not, that they get changed. These producers and employees aren’t living in luxury, but they are escaping poverty, because of People R Us. They have a good sense of self-worth, and are thus a reasonably happy bunch.
One town. Two shops. One ridiculously cheap. One whose prices reflect what it cost the shop to have that item grown/made initially, right through to putting it on the shelf.
You’re a Christian – which shop would you support?
This month has seen the annual ‘Fair Trade Fortnight’. No doubt many churches made some mention of it, or perhaps even went the whole hog and had a Fair Trade stall, or similar. It’s a great start, but as Christians, is it enough to feel as though we’ve ticked the right boxes, just because we’ve switched to fairly-traded tea, coffee and bananas?
Granted, few of us are naïve enough to assume that the above ‘two shops’ scenario sums up all the issues or problems involved; it’s not that simple. These two shops don’t exist in our town and we can’t always rely on companies to be accountable to us, whatever the rumours about them, good or bad. That said, it would be sad if we were naïve to the point where we said: There’s too much to think about – I’m just going to shop like I always have, and assume it won’t make a difference to peoples’ lives.
To state: ‘I support Fair Trade’ is a bit like saying ‘I support treating my partner well’. We know that Jesus wants us to treat those we know with love; to respect and honour them rather than hate and abuse them. Maybe it’s harder to take on board that this applies equally to those we don’t know (those in developing countries). Just as we wouldn’t feel happy about acting in a hateful or abusive way to our partner, we shouldn’t feel happy about buying anything from a developing country unless we know it involves fair trade, and not unfair trade (it’s worth noting that such products are not ‘fair trade’ or ‘normal’… if they’re not fairly-traded, they are quite likely to be very unfairly-traded!).
So, what are some positive ways that we can make ‘Fair Trade Fortnight’ last all year round, as a church?
1] Use fair trade tea, coffee and sugar in your kitchen. (If you run a coffee shop, also consider fair trade hot chocolate, snack bars, biscuits and so on).
2] What about other church gatherings or events? If you’re running a housegroup in your house, aim to be a person/household that uses fairly-traded items all the time, so that when you serve your housegroup drinks and snacks, you can lead by example. If you need T-shirts for stewards at your outreach event, kids club or camp… look into buying some made with fairly-traded cotton.
3] Does your church youth group have a tuck shop? See if you can replace a couple of items with some fairly-traded ones. Use this switch in stock to discuss with the children/teens the issues involved, in a way that’s relevant to them.
4] If you have a Church weekend away, see if you can get those in charge of catering to buy fairly-traded products. If people are making cakes or biscuits to take, ask if they can use fairly-traded chocolate, sugar, nuts and dried fruit.
5] Raise awareness – put up a poster on the noticeboard listing the huge variety of fairly-traded products now available, and which shops in your town stock which items (ask the youth group to design it!). Give two minute reminders during the morning service, as often as they’ll allow you! Go crazy – use drama, show a short film, give out chocolate samples… anything to get the message across!
6] Become a Fair Trader for Traidcraft or Tearcraft… or both! Hold a monthly stall after Church on a Sunday morning – encourage people to stock up!
We do live in a small town. Jesus said we should love each other. The town is called planet Earth. Jesus said we should love each other. Earth contains lots of producers and lots of shops. Jesus said we should love each other. When we shop, let’s avoid the ‘Cheapstores’ of this world and switch our support to the ‘People R Us’ chain. It makes sense. A simple alteration in our shopping habits can mean the difference between ‘struggling with poverty’ and ‘climbing out of poverty’ for those on other parts of the planet. Why should we bother? Because Jesus said we should love each other.