Conventional trade just isn’t working for the world’s poor. Despite international trade being worth $10 million a minute, poor countries account for only 0.4% of this trade. Cotton is a stark example of the effect of unequal trade rules in global trade on people’s lives. For many poor people in West and Central Africa, cotton is the only viable way to earn an income so even small price declines can mean families struggle to meet basic needs like food, medicines, schoolbooks and tools.
Despite ups and downs, over the last 40 years, the real price of cotton has fallen significantly. Recent falls can be directly attributed to huge subsidies granted by rich governments to their
own cotton farmers. The US in particular has a big impact on global prices as the world’s second
largest cotton producer and is by far the largest exporter. US producers currently receive about $4.2bn in subsidies, equivalent to the total value of their crop.
Subsidies mean farmers in developing countries – despite having lower production costs than their American counterparts – are not able to compete with the artificially lowered prices. Experts estimate global cotton prices would be 15% higher if all subsidies were eliminated. In the meantime Fairtrade offers shoppers a chance to choose an alternative vision of how trade can work and what it can achieve.
Most Revd and Rt Hon Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York said,
‘Fairtrade is a great example of the power of ordinary people to be ‘good news to the poor’. Last year I visited a brand new health centre built by a local co-operative in Ivory Coast on the strength of the extra money they receive because of Fairtrade. The co-op members were rightly proud of their achievement, which is already saving lives. Getting fair prices and a fair trade premium makes all the difference for farmers and producers. As a Christian, I want trade to be an expression of the reality that all men and women are my brothers and sisters, to whom I owe justice, respect, and the
best possible future.
Fair trade really took off more than 20 years ago because the churches took it up. There has been fantastic progress – even some multinationals now have their Fairtrade products. But there is much more to do. I hope this resource will both inform and inspire churches to participate fully and campaign for further changes.’
Last year another 1,000 churches in the UK met the goals to become a Fairtrade Church, bringing the total to a whopping 7,000. On becoming a Fairtrade Church you receive a certificate to display to tell people you have made a commitment to Fairtrade.
The three goals a Fairtrade Church must fulfil are:
Use Fairtrade tea and coffee after services and in all meetings for which they have responsibility
Move forward on using other Fairtrade products such as sugar, biscuits and fruit
Promote Fairtrade during Fairtrade Fortnight and during the year through events, worship and other activities whenever possible
Is this something we as a church can do? Can we commit to this as a church? It also means that if we donate products for use in church they need to be Fairtrade. It is noteworthy that fair-trade tea and coffee is now cheaper tham “Premier bands”.
I believe this something important we can do - act local think global.