In this week’s email:
- Speak Up
- Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner
- Cholera in Yemen
- Fairtrade Update
- Coming Up: Sea Sunday
Jeremiah is the focus of one of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament readings. The context is that Jeremiah has been called to prophesy prolonged service to a foreign kingdom when the false prophets are speaking about a return of the exiles and a restoration of the Kings of Judah. Are there places today where we are seeking words that promise a false peace when God is calling us to a faithful acceptance of challenge?
This coming week is the latest ‘Speak Up Week of Action’, in which the Climate Coalition and its members are encouraging people around the UK to speak with their MPs about climate change.
The focus is on asking MPs to “reflect their constituents’ concerns about climate change by asking the Prime Minister to:
- 1) Show global climate leadership by working with others to implement the Paris agreement
- 2) Ensure government departments work together to produce a strong emissions reduction plan
- Unlocks local and community energy
- Cuts energy waste in homes
- Tackles emissions and air pollution from vehicles”
If you would like to undertake action, you can either attend your MP’s surgery or write to your MP, noting that it’s the Week of Action and that you have some concerns and requests. The Climate Coalition has an outline briefing on what to say (p.13 of the Action Guide): we would recommend in addition that you ask your MP to ask the Prime Minister how she intends to implement the Climate Change Committee’s most recent recommendations. The recommendations were published this week: a summary can be found here.
If you would like a template letter, please email us. If you are meeting – or plan in the future to meet – your MP and would like the brilliant new Hope for the Future booklet on preparing for such meetings, please also email.
And please pray:
- that many people will participate in the Speak Up Week and will communicate to their MPs that there is a constituency for climate action
- that this week’s discussions will begin or continue fruitful, constructive relationships between people concerned about climate change and their MPs
- that the Government will respond by working to implement the Paris Agreement and taking rapid action to support local and community energy and to tackle energy waste in homes and emissions from vehicles.
Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner
As this month’s Pray and Fast prayer points note, Donald Trump’s removing the US from the Paris Agreement – and his government’s attacks on environmental legislation and funding more generally – have had the perhaps unanticipated impact of galvanising many in the US who remain committed to care for the environment.
US Christians are at the forefront of many environmental initiatives, and we’re delighted this week to launch a series of ‘Why I care about the environment’ articles reflecting their perspectives. The first of these is by Charles Scribner, the Executive Director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality, habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.”
Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, the controversial Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, are currently seeking to weaken, postpone implementation of or repeal legislation around water pollution – so it’s a particularly appropriate time to hear from Charles Scribner and to keep him and the vital Riverkeeper work in our prayers. We’re hugely grateful for this piece – and we pray:
- in thanksgiving for Charles Scribner’s work and the work of the Riverkeeper movement and the Waterkeeper Alliance
- for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and its work to protect one of Alabama’s richest sources of water and biodiversity
- for all the Waterkeepers, as they seek to “strengthen and grow a global network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water”
- for wisdom and courage for all who are seeking to counter moves to weaken environmental protection rules, in the US and worldwide
Cholera in Yemen
The cholera crisis in Yemen has reached exceptional proportions: as of the 1st of July, some 246,000 cases have been reported since the outbreak began, and 1,500 people have died since late April. The deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation to Yemen writes: “Yemen now suffers three-way tragedy: a population under siege, suffering the violence of war and unable to work or access nutritious food or health care; an economic collapse that has led to a rise in criminality; and now a devastating health crisis. This all leads to what could be the largest cholera outbreak of our lifetime.”
The directors of UNICEF and the World Health Organization noted: “This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread. Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened children’s health and made them more vulnerable to disease. An estimated 30,000 dedicated local health workers who play the largest role in ending this outbreak have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months.”
There is some hope that a dramatic scaling up of work undertaken by agencies is beginning to see a reduction in deaths – but the situation remains critical.
- for all affected by cholera, asking God to bring hope and healing to the people with the disease and those loving and caring for them.
- in thanksgiving for the dedicated health workers labouring – despite, in many cases, lack of equipment, medication and pay – to prevent and treat cholera. Pray that God gives them strength in the face of difficulty and that they are able to access the medicines and equipment they need. Pray that they will also be able to get the pay they need for themselves and their families.
- in thanksgiving that parties to the conflict are now allowing medical assistance into areas where aid has previously been blocked.
- for a just end to the conflict that is devastating Yemeni’s lives and Yemen’s infrastructure and that is creating the circumstances where cholera can flourish.
- Pray for wisdom for those leading efforts to press for diplomatic resolution of the conflict – and to hold all parties accountable for their actions in the conflict.
- Could you donate to the ICRC or MSF, which are two of the biggest providers of medical assistance to people affected by cholera in Yemen? (MSF does not have specific appeals, so the donation is to their general fund)
- Or could you donate to any one of the many charities (eg Christian Aid, Tearfund, Oxfam) offering assistance in the country?
A few weeks ago we reported on the worrying development that Sainsbury’s was preparing to pull the Fairtrade label from some of its own brand tea (and rooibos tea) products, replacing it with a “fairly traded” label as part its new ‘Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme’. We noted grave concerns around this, centering on the lack of transparency in the process and Sainsbury’s refusal to allow producers direct control of the equivalent of the Fairtrade premium; we’re also very concerned about the misleading nature of the ‘fairly traded’ label.
Since then the ‘Fairly Traded’ tea has gone on sale – and there have been several further developments:
- ISEAL, a major organisation which “represents the movement of credible and innovative sustainability standards,” issued a statement noting that, while Sainsbury’s announcement included a statement of intention to apply for ISEAL membership, “Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme and its tea pilot are not endorsed by ISEAL and Sainsbury’s has not applied for, nor obtained, ISEAL membership.” Indeed, ISEAL “did not have any involvement in setting up the tea pilot or knowledge of it prior to the public announcement.””The principles of transparency and engagement,” ISEAL added, “are two Credibility Principles that underpin good practice when setting up and implementing a credible sustainability standards system. ISEAL strongly encourages Sainsbury’s to uphold the Credibility Principles to which it has publically committed.”
- The Fairtrade Foundation has countered Sainsbury’s explanation that the new programmes were designed to help farmers deal with climate change by pointing to Fairtrade’s own work in this area. It has also issued a strong, clear statement of why producer empowerment – through things like self-determination in the use of the premium – is such an important part of Fairtrade.
- Some of the founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fairtrade Foundation – including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam and Traidcraft – have written an open letter to Sainsbury’s, expressing “a number of serious concerns.” These included:
- seeing “‘own brand’ certification standards as a step backwards in tackling major issues related to poverty and environmental sustainability,” as such standards undermine collaborative work across sectors.
- the sense that the labelling is misleading: “Products sourced in such a different way to both Fairtrade certification and Fair Trade principles will mislead consumers if branded as ‘fairly traded’.”
- the failure of the proposed standards to address issues around wages [The Fairtrade Foundation now requires plantations to have a plan for raising wages towards a living wage]
- the disempowering of farmers: “Removing decision-making on the use of premiums from farmer organisations goes against the clear evidence that financial decision-making power for workers and farmers is essential to help them realise human rights, improve environmental sustainability and increase economic development.”
- the apparent lack of “meaningful consultation of trade unions, workers or farmers’ organisations in the development of the standards” and the failure to reflect the feedback of some of the organisations who were consulted.
On these bases, the organisations ask Sainsbury’s not to extend the proposals to other products until it has “published independent evidence of the impacts of your pilot including a clear analysis of the costs to all stakeholders” and encourages them “to urgently review and reconsider your plans.”
- A piece in The Observer brought these issues to wider attention, highlighting some of the issues involved. This was one of a number of examples of negative press coverage: the Financial Times and industry publications (eg Sustainable Brands, The Grocer) also carried articles noting criticism of Sainsbury’s.
- A major petition, with the support of many of the agencies involved in Fairtrade, has been set up on Change.org.
It’s hard to tell what impact the protests are having: Sainsbury’s has not officially announced any changes and has continued to permit its employees to make statements, occasionally of questionable accuracy, regarding the relationship between their model and Fairtrade.
What next? It feels important to continue protesting, and we would strongly urge those who care about Fairtrade to sign the online petition. If you are part of an institution (Fairtrade church, Fairtrade town, Fairtrade denominational body, etc) that supports Fairtrade and would like some template letters to Sainsbury’s, get in touch, and we’ll happily send some. We’d also suggest continued prayer:
- for the more than 200,000 Fairtrade tea farmers affected by Sainsbury’s move. This may well be an anxious time: pray that they may have a sense of security for the short and long term.
- for wisdom for the leadership of the Fairtrade movement as it decides how to make the case for Fairtrade – and how to deal with the consequences of Sainsbury’s actions
- for the leadership of Sainsbury’s as they consider ways forward: pray that they will be responsive to the concerns of producers and consumers
- that this will be an occasion to galvanise new interest in Fairtrade, reminding seasoned Fairtrade campaigners and informing new audiences about the full range of benefits of Fairtrade and the reasons why it exists
- in thanksgiving for the way Fairtrade makes connections among producers and consumers, and for the way it helps to redress inequalities. Pray that it may continue to do these things, and to do them well.
Coming Up: Sea Sunday
We’ll have a full item on it next week – but this is just a reminder that next Sunday is Sea Sunday, a time for remembering and raising up in prayer those who work at sea. You can find resources at: