Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What is Fair Trade all about?

JUAN and Maria de la Costa are a poor farmer couple living with three children in the mountains of Zambales, 140 kilometers north of Manila. They have lived in poverty making a living from planting vegetables, honey and gathering mango fruits to sell in the market many kilometers away from home. Like millions of impoverished indigenous people they are subsistence farmers surviving on what they can grow on sparse public lands they don’t own.
They live in a small ten-meter by ten-meter shack made of bamboo and grass. No electricity, sanitation or running water. Billions of poor people live, survive on the edge of life, in this age of the towering skyscrapers of the rich.
Juan knows nothing of the causes of his poverty. He doesn’t know that as few as 140 families and their cronies rule Congress and the wealth of the nation. He doesn’t know that one percent or less of the 101 million Filipinos is the cause of his hardship and poverty. He doesn’t know that the majority of Filipinos suffers as he does.
He and his children will remain in poverty and his children forever lost to a life of dignity and freedom in the darkness unknowing That is the way most of the ruling class want it to remain. They stay in control of 70% of the wealth, the middle class have the rest, and the poor have nothing.
If people go about protesting this unfair and unequal life they are going to get shot or banded as subversives, communist rebels or worse, marked for death as suspected terrorists.
Many a priest and pastor and lay Christian human rights worker has been assassinated for their heroic work bringing justice, human rights and fairness to the people of the impoverished south. The great imbalance and divide between north and south remains and it is getting wider. The unfair situation gives cheap slave-like labor for the rich so they can get richer. We are al challenged by this and should wonder what we can do to change it .
Juan and Maria only know that the traders in the towns will only give him four or five pesos a kilo for his Pico mangos and he knows they are worth three times that amount. But if he does not sell them for the low price they will quickly rot in the hot tropical climate. That price is not even worth his hard work and long walk into the town with a heavy sack of mangos, for her or his tribal people don’t have a carabao and cart. There is no road to their mountain villages. So he does not go to the market any more. The fruits are left on the ground.
Greed and injustice and the total lack of government help is behind this hardship of the indigenous people and the very poor subsistence farmers. Juan’s children will remain poor and uneducated. At least that is how it was until Preda Fair trade came to his village and offered to help them go organic and buy his mangos at three times higher than what the rich commercial traders were paying.
Juan and Maria and all the villagers were ecstatic with happiness. Now they would really earn good money, with high prices and a bonus payment as part of the profit sharing of Preda Fair trade project. This is what fair trade is all about, bringing economic justice to the poor and exploited people and educating their children. The Philippines and the poor nations need more of it.
Fair Trade is the movement that brings economic justice and livelihood with dignity to hundreds of thousands of poor people around the world. The good people of conscience in the rich world who want to live out gospel values and principles of justice and put them into to practice in meaningful practical ways turn to buy Fair-Trade products.
The people who buy Fair trade products believe in changing the injustice in the world by reaching out and helping the people who need help most. They want to support through fair trade the people in the developing world who work hard to help themselves and their family. They support and defend the human rights activists, priests and pastors and those working for human and economic rights. They believe Pope Francis who said the Gospel message and Christianity is all about unselfish service and doing justice.
I have been actively helping many farmers., indigenous people and small artisans and craft people meet the criteria of Fair-Trade and fairly produced products for the past forty years. It is the exit door out of the cycle of poverty. Preda Fair Trade exports the mango products of Juan and Maria and thousands of Filipinos like them to many countries and the benefits and earnings return to help the producers and farmers.
Some of those earning also go to protect and improve the environment by tree planting and helping children who are victims of commercial sexual exploitation and abuse. Preda fair trade and our partners and supporters oppose the trade in human persons and helps the survivors.
Fair-Trade is one of the best ways to help people overcome injustice, oppression and poverty and to have a life of dignity. We all ought to make that extra effort to use our spending power to help others as we go to the grocery and buy Fairly Traded quality products. They might cost a bit more but fair minded customers consider that fair wages and benefits are paid and they don’t want to eat food that causes hardship and injustice to others. They want to help change the injustice in the world and live out their faith. shaycullen@preda.org / shaycullen@gmail.com
Shay Cullen

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