Fair trade is a global social movement and set of ethical standards with a robust history and respected reputation. Its advocates push for an economic system that provides fair and equitable trading partnerships for farmers and producers in the Global South.
Proponents of fair trade are often somewhat aware that, from the movement’s earliest days, congregations, denominations, individual Christians, and people of all faiths supported the expansion of fair trade and have worked tirelessly to weave fair trade values and products into the broader society.
But how exactly does fair trade connect to faith principles that orient our lives? It turns out, pretty deeply. Here are three examples of the ways that fair trade principles show up in the Biblical text:
The Bible is FULL of concern for worker’s welfare. In fact, there are so many references to fair wages, economic opportunity, and concern for the poor and marginalized, it’s impossible to find a page without these references. The Bible brims with calls for just payment structures, caring for workers, and treating the poor fairly. Proverbs 14:31 is succinct: “Those who oppress the poor taunt their Maker, but whoever is gracious to the needy honors God”. And again from James 5:4: “Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”
The fundamental tenets of fair trade include fair payment, creating opportunities for disadvantaged partners, and good working conditions. Fair trade centers on fostering long-term, equitable partnerships between companies and producers. It aims to ensure that everyone involved, from sourcing to production to distribution, is paid fairly for their labor and expertise. It’s not about pity. It’s about partnership. It’s about practicing love of neighbor in a tangible, material way. As theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes, “Neighbor-love actively serves the well-being of whomever is loved.”
The Bible demands respect for the environment. Respectful stewardship of the environment is another foundational tenet of fair-trade that’s deeply interwoven in the Biblical text. Humanity is tasked with caring for God’s creation and recognizes both the orientation towards service and the responsibility that comes with this commandment. When God commands the people of Israel to rest on the Sabbath day, this is not just for their benefit. It’s for the benefit of the land and the non-human natural world too. As noted in Leviticus 26:34-35, “Then the land shall enjoy its sabbath years as long as it lies desolate, while you are in the land of your enemies; then the land shall rest, and enjoy its sabbath years. As long as it lies desolate, it shall have the rest it did not have on your sabbaths when you were living on it.” Described by theologian Larry L. Rasmussen as “fidelity to God lived as fidelity to Earth,” creation care ensures the intertwined well-being of people and planet, and it is impossible to care for the rights of people without also caring for the health and flourishing of the planet, according to the Biblical text.
The Bible calls for gender equity and flourishing for all people. Care for the widows and orphans is a frequent reprise in the Bible. Isaiah 1:17 implores the Israelites to ‘plead the widow’s cause,” and Deuteronomy 27:19 demands in unflinching terms that, “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.” And the book of Galatians makes clear that gender equity is central to the Christian practice of faith saying, “...there is neither male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus (3:28)”. Typical distinctions of hierarchy are dissolved in the new world Christ ushers in.
Women make up three-quarters of the workers in the textiles, clothing, and leather industries. Buying fair-trade ensures their empowerment, support, and safety. Fair trade further supports the children and families of these women, providing opportunities for children to go to school and women to earn fair wages for their labor.
Buying fair trade means supporting businesses and an economic system that are trying to do better for producers, workers, and the world. As Christians, it’s our calling and our commitment to actively work towards a better world for all. Fair-trade is one good avenue to do that.