Convince Me Why I Should Care

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In the course of lively debate, one of the most hopeful and healthy challenges to advocates for a particular position is to “convince” or “persuade” those taking a different view that they should care about your position.

One of fundamental tenets of a “mindful church” community is “reasoning together.” What we want to avoid is “group think” – the conglomerated opinion borne out of frustration that rarely reflects the heart of any of its constituents, yet has the strange power of anonymity behind it.

Also, the challenge is to offer information that invites another person to “care”, leaving open the possibility that caring may not necessarily mean agreeing with a proposal. After all, parents all “care” for the welfare of their children, but frequently disagree about what that care looks like in particular situations.

Thus we arrive at our current conversations around coffee!

“Every once in a while God gives us something big to do, but every day he gives us something small to do. Those small things make a difference. Today’s generation wants to see the body of Christ act like the body of Christ.” Jonathan D. Golden

What if we looked at the small things we do every day for ways we can live out our baptismal covenant? What would it look like to question whether the clothes we wear are made in factories where working conditions are safe and healthy and workers are paid a fair living wage? What would it look like to ask where the food we eat comes from and whether the farmers who grow it and the workers who harvest it are paid a fair living wage? And the dishes we use to serve our food, what would it look like to use recyclable plates and cups rather than Styrofoam? And, yes, the coffee we drink by the gallons while we sit together in meetings talking about ways to do outreach more effectively, what would it look like to ask whether the farmers and harvesters of the coffee cherries are paid a fair living wage?

“Trendy terms make me crazy!” I agree. The moment a conversation includes phrases such as “climate change” “paradigm shift” “narrative” or “fair trade”, subconsciously (and sometimes quite consciously), I have characterized the message as simply the “latest thing” for the socially conscious community, which too often is code for “sophisticated”. It takes a while to remember my baptismal covenant and the promises that I made to God to do justice and respect the dignity of every person, along with continuing to devote myself to the study of Holy Scripture and the worship of the Church.

But when making a decision about what kind of coffee to buy and serve, we have to talk about “fair trade.” Who decides what is “fair”? And who monitors compliance?

There is actually a World Fair Trade Organization that establishes and monitors compliance with fair trade practices. According to its handbook (Version 3.6 Feb. 2014), “The organization trades with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of marginalized small producers and does not maximize profit at their expense.”

“Fair price” is “one that has been mutually agreed by all through dialogue and participation, which provides fair pay to the producers and can also be sustained by the market. Where Fair Trade pricing structures exist, these are used as a minimum.”

“Fair pay” means “provision of socially acceptable remuneration (in the local context) considered by producers themselves to be fair and which takes into account the principle of equal pay for equal work by women and men.”

For any company or initiative to call itself “Fair Trade” it must comply with these criteria, which compliance is then monitored by the World Fair Trade Organization. As far as I can tell, the WFTO is made up of its own members and polices itself. It is not a government organization, but rather a commercial union.

So, it is difficult to know with a certainty that the watchers are truly honoring the standards they set for themselves, because there are no sanctions or penalties, per se, for calling an organization “Fair Trade” when it is not.

The next way to measure the degree to which an organization is playing fair is to look at their tax returns. For example, one so-called “Fair Trade” option we considered indicated that out of their $20,000 annual profit, $5000 was reinvested into the community. Maybe as things go, that’s pretty good. We wouldn’t sniff at a pledge that represented 25% of household income. But some may think that “Fair Trade” is the same thing as “Non-profit” and are looking for a greater contribution.

Another option is Beyond Beans, coffee that is grown on the property of the Young Life camp in Nicaragua, and according to Young Life’s website, every penny earned from this coffee goes toward sending a Nicaraguan child to Young Life camp. The beans are not packaged in the “frac packs” that we use at the church, but that extra level of work to spoon out the grounds into a filter certainly seems like an inconsequential inconvenience in the light of who we would be helping by purchasing it. In addition, our friends at Amigos for Christ have offered to transport it back to us for free on any of the twenty or more trips they make each year. The financial breakdown of this initiative is available on their website: www.beyondbeanscoffee.com/young-life.

A third option is Land of a Thousand Hills, a for-profit company that is committed to paying a fair price directly to coffee growers in Rwanda. This company is a direct initiative to help heal the country following the civil war when, over the course of 100 days, over 1 million people were killed. The processing plant for these coffee cherries is in Roswell, Georgia. This is the company that made a presentation to our Outreach and Pastoral Care committees this spring. You can find out everything and more that we learned at this presentation at www.LANDOFATHOUSANDHILLS.com.

The Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD) has a coffee line formerly known as “Bishop’s Blend”, now Pura Vida. Proceeds from this fair trade coffee help support the emergency relief efforts of the Episcopal Church throughout the world. You can find out more about this option at: www.episcopalrelief.org.

Each of these options appears to address in one way or another the degree to which a commodity that is so basic to our way of life comes to us through avenues that are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. By making an informed decision about how we as a parish choose to acquire this commodity, I believe we are acting out of faithfulness to our baptismal covenant to do justice and to respect the dignity of every person.

I invite your responses, your ideas, and look forward to whatever we as a community choose to do next.

Blessings, Cynthia+

One comment

  1. Moving to use “fair trade” coffee can and should be done. I have heard about such offerings for coffee in the past but I would like to more about other foods. We are moving to buy more locally but how do I research other foods I cannot buy locally? The Rwanda situation sounds the most in need at this time.

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