Most conversations over lunch are quickly forgotten, but this one won’t be - ever. We were in Sri Lanka, part of a group visiting producers of Created (Tearcraft) fairly traded goods to see what difference the work was making to peoples’ lives.
Two of our group had been travelling in the country the week before. They were telling us about women tea pickers they had met. The women’s daily target was to pick 20kg tea. Their daily wage was 100 rupees. “And,” said Shiran, our host, “a loaf of bread costs 50 rupees.”
Those challenging facts are what will stick in the mind; 100 rupees (60p) for picking 20kg (our airline’s baggage allowance) of tea leaves. 100 rupees - enough to feed a family even a limited diet? What happens about the other expenses - clothing, fuel, medicines, transport, school...? 60p for a day’s work. Where’s the justice in that?
The answer, as in so many cases, is that there is no justice. And yet, the Bible tells us over and over that justice really matters to God. In the book of Micah you’ll find the question asked: “And what does the Lord require of you?” The answer - “To act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
We all (without exception?) enjoy getting a bargain, but when we look behind the price tag, too often we find that we save at someone else’s expense. Sometimes the expense is financial. Supermarket food promotions, for example, are often at least part-funded by reduced prices for our farmers. Sometimes, it’s far worse. Three facts, in recent publicity from the IT company Apple hang together uncomfortably: the advertising of a more affordable iPod; the announcement of record $13 billion profits for the last quarter; the setting up of an investigation into the working conditions which have driven workers to suicide in the Chinese factory which is Apple’s main supplier.
We’re now at the start of Fairtrade fortnight, a good time to think through these things - and to commend the buying of Fairtrade products. Their range is increasing and their quality good. OK, sometimes the products are slightly more expensive but that’s for the best of reasons. The little extra gives Fairtrade tea pickers, and other workers, fair wages and decent working conditions and provides their communities with a premium to spend on the basic facilities they need. It’s just a little extra for us, but it makes a world of a difference to them.
Inchbrayock Parish Church