04 June 2021

Why Support Fair Trade as Christians?

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“Chocolate has a dark secret: the 1.2 million children that work on cocoa plantations. Many farm workers can’t earn a living wage and forests are being destroyed – even in protected areas. Companies have been promising to address these issues for decades, but little has improved. We urgently need EU regulation to stop these crimes.” “Chocolate has a dark secret: the 1.2 million children that work on cocoa plantations. Many farm workers can’t earn a living wage and forests are being destroyed – even in protected areas. Companies have been promising to address these issues for decades, but little has improved. We urgently need EU regulation to stop these crimes.” https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/petitions/1161/stop-child-labor-and-deforestation-for-chocolate

Two nights ago I gave a very short presentation on this topic as part of an hour webinar sponsored by our Fair Trade committee in America’s First Fair Trade Town, Media, Pennsylvania.

Let me unpack that statement. Bruce Crowther, a British veterinarian and practicing Quaker, was leading a chapter of Oxfam (an anti-poverty, pro-justice NGO founded in Britain in 1942) in his small town of Garstang, Lancashire. He had begun to focus on the issue of fair trading for local farmers but also for coffee, vanilla, sugar and tea farmers worldwide. He managed to convince most of his town’s businesses to buy and sell “Fair Trade” products whenever possible, and in 2000, Garstang declared itself the world’s “first Fair Trade Town.” That was the beginning of the Fair Trade Towns Campaigns.

Meanwhile in Media, Hal Taussig had founded a travel company (Untours) centered on the idea of building relationships between people across borders and had himself travelled several times to Mexico to find ways to improve the livelihoods of coffee growers there. He and Bruce Crowthers got in touch, and in 2006, Media’s Borough Council declared Media “America’s First Fair Trade Town.” I joined the FT committee in 2008, was off of it for 6 or 7 years, but rejoined it in 2020.

By the way, Media and Garstang have become twin towns on this basis and they have adopted New Koforidua, Ghana, as a sister Fair Trade town. This is where Bruce Crowthers and others lended support to the first cooperative of cocoa farmers (many of them women) that used fair trade principles to grow their business. Founded in 1993, it wasn’t until 2008 that these several hundred farmers were able to turn a profit and use their Fair Trade premium to build a school and other amenities for their community (see this short video documenting the completion of their school; and here for a fascinating history of their Divine Chocolate brand).

Furthermore, these three sister towns intentionally form the Fair Trade Triangle, replacing the nefarious transatlantic slavery triangle from the 16th to the 19th centuries for a new model of trade built on mutual flourishing.

Back to the webinar two days ago. Our Media Fair Trade committee, among other projects, had set its sights on increasing the number of Media congregations declaring themselves “Fair Trade congregations.” So far, no one followed the Reformation Lutheran Church which did so in 2015. The other reason, of course, was to disseminate more information about Fair Trade. Our webinar theme was the title of this post and my presentation was followed by a 10-minute presentation on fair trade by another committee member, Barbara Bole, who recently got her PhD in public policy with a dissertation on Fair Trade Towns. A discussion followed.

Below is an expansion of my Powerpoint presentation for the webinar.


A Christian is someone who follows Jesus, the bearer of Good News

For three years, Jesus preached his Good News (or “gospel”) to all who would listen, but mostly in the hills around Lake Tiberias (of the “Sea of Galilee”). These were mostly poor rural folk, many of them poor day laborers or small farmers. The expression that comes up again and again when you read the gospels is “follow me.” For his twelve disciples, this meant literally eating, sleeping, and traveling with him on his mission. There were at least 70 others, and probably many more who were sent on a mission to heal the sick and preach the “good news of the kingdom.” But this also includes all who came under his teaching. He called everyone to follow his teaching and his example, as Jews who had finally met the Messiah (though Jesus did not fit the traditional expectation of the Messiah, but that’s another topic).


The Good News can be summarized like a symphony in three movements, or a story with three chapters

  • The Garden of Eden: the close and intimate relationship God has with Adam and Eve is broken by their rebellion, and they are chased from the garden, as sin, suffering, war, and death enter the world.
  • The cross and resurrection: the Apostle Paul puts it this way: “For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Christ’s work of redemption brings forgiveness, new birth (receiving this new nature as a gift we are “adopted” into God’s family); and one day, all of nature will be renewed. Again Paul: “But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay” (Romans 8:20).
  • The New Heavens and the New Earth: the Apostle John in exile near the end of his life is given a vision of what happens when Jesus returns: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared … And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband … I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory” (Revelation 21).


The heart of Jesus’ message was that the kingdom of God had come into the world in his person. Some of the signs of this kingdom: the lame walk, the blind see, lepers are healed and even some dead come back to life. The disciples also foreshadowed a city reconciled and healed from within: a nationalist zealot ready to kill Romans, a tax collector collaborating with the occupiers, fishermen and other working class men. But Jesus made it clear that God’s rule on earth would not come fully until he came back again and had defeated Satan, sin and death -- completely and finally.

Notice too that Act I takes place in a garden. God, humanity, and nature are all one, until sin turns all that upside down. But that’s also when God’s plan of redemption and salvation is put into motion. Notice too that it’s a holistic salvation: individuals are transformed and healed from within, but so are families, neighborhoods, and whole cities. In fact, the story that starts in a garden ends in a city (Act III), where all the nations are gathered, and not only live harmoniously, but each “king” or “nation” or ethnic group brings “their glory and honor into the city.” This means that all their cultural achievements and unique gifts are made available to all. We can only dream of such harmonious multiculturalism today!

John’s vision of this new earthly city (it came down from heaven, so it’s on the new earth!) means one simple thing:

It’s the city where all may flourish!


All of Jesus’ teachings can be summarized in two pairs:

  • The Law of Moses and the message of the prophets, declares Jesus, boil down to two commandments: a) love God with all your heart, soul and strength (Deuteronomy 6:4); and b) love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).
  • Drawing from my recent book, I can add that the two central values of the city where God dwells are justice and love – really two sides to the same coin, and it is the currency of this city to come. Justice is when each person is treated according to his/her rights as a person created in God’s image and dearly loved by him. Love is doing everything I can to make sure everyone can flourish, especially the weak, the poor, and disabled.


Put love and justice together and you understand that a society where God has his way is one in which all can flourish. Leaders enact laws that reduce inequality as much as possible, level the playing field for those who are disadvantaged, and foster both equality (all equal before the law) and equity (the justice system works fairly for all).

There are potentially hundreds of verses in the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible for our Jewish brethren). This one summarizes nicely the idea of equity and equality, and for that purpose, God’s special concern for the poor, the vulnerable and disenfranchised (as Jesus says, “the least of these”):


What sorrow awaits the unjust judges
    and those who issue unfair laws.
They deprive the poor of justice
    and deny the rights of the needy among my people.
They prey on widows
    and take advantage of orphans.

(Isaiah 10:1-2)


I mentioned earlier the bonding of the three sister towns – in Ghana, Britain, and the US. This is the “Fair Trade Triangle,” as we put it. But 18th-century abolitionists were already working on this idea. The British parliamentarian William Wilberforce, a devout Christian mentored by ex-slave trader John Newton (author of the hymn “Amazing Grace”; see the film by that name) banked his whole career on abolishing the slave trade. With a growing coalition of civil society people he began his bid to outlaw this evil trade in 1787 and the abolition bill finally passed in 1807, but slavery itself was still practiced within the British Empire. Wilberforce retired from the House of Commons in 1825 but three days before he died in 1833 he was finally vindicated : the Slavery Abolition Act was passed!

One of the tools his friends used to chip away at the slave trade was the sugar boycott. Sugar, like coffee, cotton and tobacco was produced by slave labor. A pamphlet from 1791 (written by William Fox, not a Quaker) calling people to boycott sugar to end slavery took England by storm and became the most successful pamphlet of that century. As you see, leveraging trade to end human rights abuses and fairly compensate producers is not a new concept.

The picture you see above of a child in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) straining under the weight of a bag of cocoa pods raises the issue of children’s rights. Child labor, some forms of which might arguably rise to the level of slavery, is ubiquitous in the agricultural sector in many parts of the world. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), drawn up in 2015 and aiming for 2030, for the first time explicitly seek to end all forms of child labor by 2025.

The matter is particularly urgent for Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire which produce 60 percent of the world’s cocoa, as this Fair Trade article makes clear. Sadly, the US Supreme Court ruled this month in favor of Nestle in the case Nestle v. Doe (six men who had been trafficked as children from Mali to Côte d’Ivoire to work on chocolate farms), but it did raise awareness of this longstanding injustice. This is not my topic here, but surely as you can see from these articles, consumers of chocolate worldwide have an important role to play in this. Fair Trade can and does make a big difference, particularly as more and more people become conscious and intentional consumers.

If we want to follow Jesus, Fair Trade is something we should definitely embrace.*


* There is no mosque or synagogue in Media, a county seat of 5,000 people. Otherwise, I could easily have shown how compelling Fair Trade should be for a Muslim or Jew. In fact, we need to get some of those congregations in our wider area involved in the ongoing Fair Trade campaigns.