“We are everlasting debtors to known and unknown men and women. We do not finish breakfast without being dependent on more than half of the world. When we arise in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge which is provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap that is created for us by a Frenchman. The towel is provided by a Turk. Then at the table we drink coffee which is provided for us by a South American, or tea by a Chinese, or cocoa by a West African. Before we leave for our jobs we are beholden to more than half the world.”
These are the words of Martin Luther King Jr in his book Strength to Love and were reiterated last week at the Fair Trade Panel for Young Professionals hosted by UNA-GB’s Young Professionals for International Cooperation (YPIC) and co-sponsored by Boston Faith and Justice Network. The panel included speakers from Boston Faith and Justice Network, Proxy Apparel, a sweatshop free apparel company and Autonomie Project, a fair trade apparel and footwear company.
Even more so than in Dr. King’s time, we are exposed to global products and processes in our everyday lives. Whether it is the food that travels thousands of miles to arrive at the local grocery store or the garments that are cut, sewed, dyed, embroidered, and packaged around the world before arriving at the nearest shopping mall, the everyday products we buy have global connections and can significantly affect producers’ lives.
Last week, the YPIC panel discussed how audience members can make more informed decisions as consumers that will improve the lives of the producers: buying sweatshop-free items and Fair Trade certified items, which may guarantee consumers that fair wages and labor conditions were involved with the production process.
In essence, your simple everyday purchases can help or discourage trade justice in the world and can mean food on the table for a farm worker’s family. The panelists made it clear that our purchases do have global consequences and it is up to us to demand Fair Trade products in the supermarket and in our shopping malls. One way to care is to provide only Fair Trade items in your place of work. This is a part of a greater movement by Fair Trade Boston to declare Boston a Fair Trade City in 2010.
A simple way I personally plan to be more proactive about my purchases by asking store managers where products are made, if the products are Fair Trade and whether the products were made in non-sweatshop conditions. Only if we take action can we make a difference to more just production practices.