Today I was reflecting on one of the Stations of the Cross photographs created by the Maryknoll Missionaries. The Maryknoll Missionaries have a Missioner's Prayer that states, "Go where you are needed but not wanted and stay until you are wanted but no longer needed." The Maryknoll Missionaries are in many countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America and partner with local churches to create clinics, hospitals, agricultural and vocational training programs, and so much more. They've selflessly served the poor wherever they were sent for over 100 years.
The 9th Station of the Cross was how I spent a little time today which was entitled, "Jesus Falls A Third Time," written with the sub-title "When people ignore the true image of God in one another." The Maryknoll 9th Station depicts a woman in extreme poverty huddled on the sidewalk beneath the window ledge of a religious articles store. She is homeless and deprived of her dignity. Sadly, people pass by and ignore her yet are willing to pay exorbitant prices for religious images made of plaster directly above her in the store's window. A typical statue costs $245 and a silver rosary is $28, while the average daily income of a person in the Philippines is $1.50. This made me think about how Fair Trade is bringing so much to people who would be like this woman on the street. I have often witnessed people's purchasing power in a religious article store, where many of the products are being made in sweatshops and the person buying it has no idea where it came from. Sometimes the religious article may say "China" but most people don't think it is forced, abusive, sweatshop labor.
I write about this today because it has something to do with the work we do in Fair Trade in Hampton Bays at the World Village Fair Trade Market. We have come to know that the lives of people all over the world are improved and they are living above the poverty line now due to the sales of their products. Fair Trade is much more than paying a fair wage, however. It is a compassionate approach to partnering with people whose lives were being destroyed through poverty. In America, the Fair Trade Federation is comprised of wholesale and retail businesses that are being led by inspired social entrepreneurs, who believe people are more important than profits and our planet is more important than reckless destruction of the environment. With a careful balance, Fair Traders work to improve the working conditions of producer groups, supply needed resources, instruct and develop skills, develop good management practices, and pay fair wages. In the world of Fair Trade there is no sweatshop/child/slave labor, nor is there damage to the environment.
People of faith look for ways to live their faith in their homes, in their gift-giving and on their person, but what is important is that the product is also made in a way that brings justice, peace and love to the producer as well as to the person who will receive it as a gift. If the article of faith is an agent of oppression, abuse and imprisonment through its production, how can it bring about what is intended? Each person lying in a gutter somewhere is someone who brings us the face of God, and as Mother Theresa used to say, "hidden in the distressing disguise of the poor." People in the Fair Trade Movement across the world may not all be of the same religious faith, but they all agree that people are more important than profits and that human rights are to be protected.
You can change the world by doing a few things to eradicate this type of exploitation: 1) shop Fair Trade; 2) tell your favorite religious articles store that you are concerned about how the products are made and where they are from; 3) support our American companies where labor rights are being protected.