Fairtrade, Church Action on Poverty, Malta Declaration: 26 Feb 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Fairtrade Fortnight
  • Poor Church, Transfigured Church
  • Malta Declaration

The Gospel in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings begins with Christ’s transfiguration – Jesus, Peter, James and John ascend a mountain, and the awestruck disciples behold their master, shining as God had when he revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, in conversation with Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets. A voice proclaims the Christ as God’s son, the Beloved. And then … they are alone again. Things are normal. And Jesus reveals that he is now on his way to death. As we enter Lent, can we take time apart, in quiet, with Christ, asking for the grace to perceive His glory … and to follow the way of the cross?
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Fairtrade Fortnight

Fairtrade Fortnight begins this Monday – and already there’s been a significant announcement and the launch of a new short advertising film.

Co-op Announcement

The announcement was genuinely a major one, indicating that by the end of May 2017 the Co-op would become the first UK retailer to use only Fairtrade cocoa across its entire own-brand product range. This affects over 200 products, including everything from chocolate bars to the sprinkles on its doughnuts to the battering on frozen fish. The retailer estimates that the increased usage will see a five-fold rise in its purchasing of cocoa on Fairtrade terms, and will create £450,000 a year in social premium payments for cocoa communities, in addition to the payment of the Fairtrade price.

The Co-op’s Fairtrade strategy manager, Brad Hill, noted that the switch had been made possible by the retailer’s “working hard with the Fairtrade Foundation to produce a successful ‘retail ready’ version of the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program.” The company’s own-brand chocolate will continue to bear the FAIRTRADE Mark, as it will use not only Fairtrade cocoa but also Fairtrade ingredients wherever this is possible. For other products, where the cocoa is the only Fairtrade ingredient, the assumption is that the Co-op’s labels will use the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program logo, which allows manufacturers and retailers to note the Fairtrade Cocoa element of a product without going fully Fairtrade.

This is precisely the kind of outcome that the Fairtrade Foundation was hoping for when it introduced the Cocoa Sourcing Program, and both it and the Co-op have expressed the hope that other retailers will follow suit … much as they did after the Co-op became the first major retailer to turn all its own-brand chocolate Fairtrade in 2002. With the Co-op the new development appears very positive: it would seem that their commitment to their fully Fairtrade brands remains, and the expansion of their use of Fairtrade cocoa in ancillary products benefits producers. There has been concern, however, that some manufacturers and retailers could use the Cocoa Sourcing Program to move from Fairtrade to ‘Fairtrade-lite’, using only Fairtrade cocoa where they used to use all Fairtrade ingredients, reducing the amount of other ingredients (such as sugar or vanilla) bought on the Fairtrade market, and cutting their costs in a way that undermines those who remain with the higher costs of producing fully Fairtrade goods.

Why Fairtrade matters

Why does it matter whether Fairtrade flourishes? That’s a question that the Foundation’s ‘Don’t Feed Exploitation’ campaign – and the short film that accompanies it – seeks to answer. The film, used as an advertisement, confronts ordinary people with the fact that cheap prices are often underpinned by exploitative practices, such as child labour. It’s a deliberately hard-hitting message.

And it’s a message we can’t afford to forget. Last week we asked for prayer for those detained protesting against low wages and poor working conditions in Bangladesh. This week we give thanks that, responding to pressure from organisations and businesses, the Bangladeshi Labour Ministry met with the IndustriALL Bangladesh Council (IBC) and the Manufacturers’ Association BGMEA on Thursday; the Bangladeshi government released some detainees; and it pledged to release all those remaining and to call for reinstatement offers for fired workers. This is real progress –  give thanks for it, and for the actions of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the major retailers (H&M, Inditex [parent of Zara], Gap, C & A, VF Corporation, Next and Tchibo) who refused to attend the government’s Dhaka Apparel Summit focused on sustainability as a protest against the government’s actions. There is no question that their actions – and by extension the actions of those who press the companies on corporate responsibility issues – had an impact.

But while we can rejoice in that, the conditions for garment workers in Bangladesh remain untenable, and much more work needs to be done there, and in countries around the world, to ensure that people are able to work in safe conditions with fair pay. Fairtrade is part of that work – and it matters.

 

We’re attaching some of our Fairtrade prayers for use during Fairtrade Fortnight (more resources are here). In addition, as Fortnight begins, please pray:

  • in thanksgiving for the way Fairtrade has encouraged people around the world to be mindful of those who produce the goods they use
  • in thanksgiving for the Co-op’s action to increase use of Fairtrade cocoa
  • that the Co-op’s move will lead to greater use of Fairtrade products by other retailers, and that the Fairtrade Cocoa Sourcing Program will benefit cocoa producers without reducing the market for other ingredients and for fully Fairtrade products
  • in thanksgiving for the release of the detained labour leaders in Bangladesh and for the evidence that a principled stance by businesses can have a wider impact
  • that this will not be an isolated event but will lead to better working conditions and pay for Bangladeshi garment workers
  • that those who farm or produce manufactured goods everywhere will have enjoy the right to fair remuneration, free association, and safe working conditions.


Action Point:
One of the areas where Fairtrade has the potential to make the greatest difference is in small-scale and artisanal mining for gold. There are a very few remaining tickets for Greg Valerio’s Fairtrade Gold talk on Shrove Tuesday. Tickets close tomorrow at noon: please register here if you wish to come.


Poor Church, Transfigured Church

This Sunday is Church Action on Poverty Sunday. It falls on the day we celebrate the Transfiguration and has as its theme “Poor Church, Transfigured Church”.

In the resources for the day, Church Action on Poverty ask congregations to reflect on the challenge of what it means to be a church for – or of – the poor. How can we ask God to transform us to enable this to happen?

Our congregations locally will each have their own reflections on this – please let us know your thoughts. As a contribution to reflection, Elizabeth recently interviewed some of the regional facilitators for the Anglican Alliance, which “has a mandate to bring together development, relief and advocacy work across the [Anglican] Communion.” The facilitators’ thoughts are presented below, together with the Church Action on Poverty prayer for this Sunday.

A church of the poor

June Nderitu (Regional Facilitator for Africa)

I think it’s important to note that the church in Africa is part of the social fabric. The church is a community. For a lot of people the church is their family. So the church is a church of the poor, for the poor and with the poor. I don’t think there’s any church (at least the ones that I know) that doesn’t have some concern for the poor. I think “poor” is a very loose term because “poor” can mean anything. If you’re talking about economic poverty, where people maybe have fewer resources or lower incomes you will find a bit of segregation. Especially in urban areas some churches are not attended by poor people. That’s normal. But they will still have a concern for the poor. So they will have their programmes… they do stuff like donate money, clothes, especially when churches in the lower income areas have some trouble: churches have been known to be burnt down or families lose everything in a fire or flood or whatever.

Ministering and working with the poor is as old as the church itself. We have schools, we have health centres, skills centres. I don’t think there’s been a time when we’ve not had [them]. They might not have been programmatic (which is more modern) but there’s always been that focus. And for churches that are a bit more advanced in how they engage, they actually have full-fledged departments for development.

We are at a cross roads, where more and more people are embracing an assets-based approach. We still have pockets of dependency, where people think that the poor can only be helped, but I think that is diminishing and the assets-base is coming to the fore more and more. I think a lot of work needs to be done, especially with the church leaders because when they say it’s going to be assets-based the community will follow suit. But if the leaders themselves have this dependency thing in their heads and they don’t want to be envisioned about it then the community will remain stagnant – and they will always be saying what they don’t have. So the assets-based is becoming the centre. At CAPA (the Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa) and the Alliance we say that the future of economic development is going to change drastically over the landscape of Africa because when it becomes asset-based… communities start asking what are we going to do with what we have. It may not necessarily happen everywhere, because dependency has taken very many years to cement, but there will be pockets of difference and we can already see that. I remember a lady I once visited somewhere in Kenya who lives in a very dry area, and she said that when she looked at her environment with asset-based eyes she was shocked at the number of resources around her. She was a teacher and used to rely on her teacher’s salary but now she has so many other things that give her income. And she said “having more money in my pocket means I give more in church”… which is true. Actually, all the churches that have taken CCM (Church Community Mobilisation) seriously, their giving has grown exponentially. They are able to pay their quotas [diocesan allocations] by March and they have money to spare. So they are able to build their own churches without fundraisers or relying on outside help. They become self-reliant and are able to pursue big scary, hairy dreams that otherwise they would never think of without thinking of a donor – like water projects or dairy projects.

Tagolyn Kabekabe (Regional Facilitator for the Pacific)

In the Pacific we say that people make up the churches. So the church is a church for the poor with the poor and of the poor. There is no space for people to be marginalised within our churches. So the people have been involved in all the church work and all the activities over a long period of time, and have brought it to what it is today. So in a way we can say that the church empowers the people but the people also empower the church – in the various activities that are being carried out in the different parishes and communities. And people embrace the church.
In the Pacific there’s not really so much of that looking at different layers of the community – such as the educated and those who are from rural communities. Everybody participates, wherever they are… There aren’t really groupings. People are able to worship together without difference or discrimination. There’s no such thing as that. People come together…. We don’t talk about people being poor… we don’t have this conversation. And yet they do exist within the community. The Mothers’ Union do a lot of work around this because they are the ones who talk to women and they know the situations families are confronted with. So in their organisation they attend to the needs of those who may not have [much], but seriously speaking, we do not talk about “they are poor people, we are better off” and speaking collectively as “we are from this parish, we are Anglicans” lessens that discriminatory attitude. I think that’s an important strength that we have within churches in the Pacific that we don’t discriminate.

Clifton Nedd (Regional Facilitator for the Caribbean)

My region is vast and varies from country to country or diocese to diocese but in some areas you do tend to find the old colonial model of the church being comprised predominantly of perhaps those who have a bit more money and wealth than those who lack that material wealth in some instances but more and more up and down the region the church is emerging and really finding itself as a church whose base is among the masses of the people.

The word “poor” is not really a word I like to use because oftentimes it speaks of particular metrics in terms of financial wealth or income but does not deal with what true wealth is.

Janice Proud – Relief and Programmes Manager at the Anglican Alliance, remembering when she was part of the Anglican Church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

I remember the Canadian Ambassador saying he loved coming to church because it was the only time he could be… next to a refugee as equals – whereas wherever he went he was always in a role and if he was visiting a community he was a high status person, whereas at the communion rail he was just equal before God.

Paolo Ueti, Regional Coordinator, Latin America

In my experience in my region which is Latin America … I do think there is a huge effort to be the church of the poor and with the poor. Not in my perspective a church for the poor because a church for the poor is a little bit too messianic in a bad sense: that the church will solve problems on behalf of the poor, the church has the only and unique answer and will give it to the poor – which is not what’s happening.

What I see happening is actually church leaders and ordinary faith people very engaged to do things together in order to have better sanitation, in order to have better education, in order to support each other in pain, in disasters, in order to worship together and sing together and have parties together, build church together. Of course there is lots of conflict within this – relationship is about conflict – but …  I do feel, really, that faith people and faith leaders and are very committed – not only to people who participate in the church but also to everybody else – to build new relationships and new societies and [are] actually attending [to] people who do not even belong to the church, doing social service or social ministry – are reaching people the government and NGOs don’t. There are lots of good projects in rural areas and urban areas in South America and Central America and I think it’s most important to highlight that many of our leaders and many of our ministers are very connected to the most marginalised people – indigenous people who have lost their homes and lands, and women who have suffered extreme violence, children out of homes – and there are lots of organised projects in every province to attend to this kind of work in a diaconal way …

The following prayer points are based on material from Church Action on Poverty’s resource booklet. Please pray that:

  • our churches, following the One who “does not forget the cry of the afflicted” (Psalm 9:12), may listen more attentively to the cry of those in poverty within and outside our congregations
  • people experiencing poverty may feel welcome and valued in – and may play a full role in the life of – our churches and all churches
  • the church may genuinely stand alongside the poorest and most vulnerable people in society
  • our churches may allow God to transfigure and transform them so that they can live for love of God and neighbour and exemplify Christ’s teaching “Blessed are the poor ….”

You may wish to use Church Action on Poverty’s prayer for this Sunday:

You call us, God
You call us out of a harsh land and into freedom
You call us out of despair and apathy
You call us into a vision of another way of living

You call us, Jesus
You call us into hope and friendship
You call us to build your kingdom
You call us to break bread with you and with the hungry

You call us, Holy Spirit
You call us to transformation
You call us to shine into the darkness
You call us into the world to change it
Give us the strength to follow where you call.

Amen

Marie Pattison,

Malta Declaration
Earlier this month EU leaders met in Malta and agreed on a controversial plan to stem the flow of refugees from North Africa to Italy along the Central Mediterranean route.
Migration at the Greek-Turkish border has significantly decreased following the EU-Turkey deal last year. However Frontex, the EU border agency, says that high numbers of people arrived in 2016 via the Central Mediterranean route, and the European Council quotes the number as 181,000. Four thousand four hundred refugees reached Italy by sea in January 2017 alone, with most departures occurring from Libya.
The Malta Declaration, adopted by the 28 EU Heads of State on 3rd February, was introduced as an attempt to “significantly reduce migratory flows, break the business model of smugglers and save lives,” (unseaworthy vessels and often dangerous conditions meant that over 5000 people lost their lives in the Mediterranean in 2016, with more deaths anticipated this spring as crossings increase with the end of the harsh winter weather). It commits EU countries to “step up cooperation with Libyan authorities,” specifically Libya’s UN-backed Presidency Council and Government of National Accord, though with a willingness to work with Libyan “regional and community authorities” and focuses on the following groups of priorities:

  • Preventing people from leaving Libya by providing “training, equipment and support to the Libyan national coastguard and other relevant agencies” to intercept boats and by undertaking “further efforts to disrupt the business model of smugglers through enhanced operational action,” involving Libya, other countries on the route, international partners, Member States, and European agencies
  • Attempting to provide safe accommodation for migrants and asylum seekers in Libya by “supporting where possible the development of local communities in Libya, especially in coastal areas and at Libyan land borders on the migratory routes, to improve their socio-economic situation” so that they can better act as host communities and “seeking to ensure adequate reception capacities and conditions in Libya for migrants, together with the UNHCR and IOM”
  • “Supporting IOM in significantly stepping up assisted voluntary return activities”
  • Discouraging people from attempting to travel through or from Libya by “enhancing information campaigns and outreach addressed at migrants in Libya and countries of origin and transit … particularly to counter the smugglers’ business model” and by helping Libya to strengthen its land borders.
  • Trying to ensure that increased security in Libya doesn’t simply lead to another diversion of migration routes, by “keeping track of alternative routes and possible diversion of smugglers’ activities, through cooperative efforts with Libya’s neighbours and the countries under the Partnership Framework, with the support of Member States and all relevant EU agencies and by making available all necessary surveillance instruments” and by “ deepening dialogue and cooperation on migration with all countries neighbouring Libya, including better operational cooperation with Member States and the European Border and Coast Guard on preventing departures and managing returns.”

The declaration also supported Italy’s bilateral agreement with the UN-backed Libyan government to return migrants to Libya for repatriation from there.

This idea is similar to the EU deal with Turkey – which itself represents, in effect, a controversial outsourcing of EU hosting of asylum seekers – but has the further complicating factor that Libya does not have the same level of relative political or economic stability that Turkey does. Since the fall of former leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has lacked an effective central government: neither the UN-backed government with which the EU declares its intention to work nor the other factions controlling different areas would currently appear to have the capacity to deliver safe reception facilities for migrants and asylum seekers as Europe has proposed. Moreover, given that direct in-country support is difficult to realise given the security situation, there is no certainty that they will be able to do so in the foreseeable future.

Libya is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no domestic law or procedure for considering asylum claims. The evidence of brutality against migrants in Libya is overwhelming, Human Rights Watch said. A damning December 2016 report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the UN mission in Libya documented widespread abuses: it opens “The situation of migrants in Libya is a human rights crisis. The breakdown in the justice system has led to a state of impunity, in which armed groups, criminal gangs, smugglers and traffickers control the flow of migrants through the country. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL)  has  also  received  credible  information  that  some  members  of  State  institutions  and some  local  officials  have  participated  in  the  smuggling  and  trafficking  process.  Many [migrants and asylum seekers] … are subjected to  arbitrary detention, torture, other ill-treatment,unlawful killings, sexual exploitation, and a host of other human rights abuses. Migrants are also exploited as forced labour and suffer extortion by smugglers, traffickers, as well as members of State  institutions.  Women  migrants  are  the  most  exposed,  amidst  numerous  and  consistent reports of rape and other sexual violence.” The EU’s own scoping report reached similar conclusions.

Moreover, relying on UNHCR and IOM to ensure adequate monitoring will be challenging until they can return to Libya from Tunisia, where they mainly remain due to security constraints. In a joint statement, UNHCR and IOM made it clear that they do not support Libya’s use of automatic detention for migrants, and noted that “security constraints continue to hinder our ability to deliver life-saving assistance, provide basic services to the most vulnerable and find solutions through resettlement, assisted voluntary return or self-reliance”

Working with Libya to turn back boats before these issues have been addressed may well, therefore, while possibly preventing deaths at sea be putting people’s lives at risk on land. Twelve Libyan NGOs recently criticised the agreement, saying that it represented a fundamental “immoral and inhumane attitude” towards migrants and expressed concern over the “inhumane conditions” faced by migrants in detention centres in Libya. Outgoing UN special envoy to Libya Martin Kobler told the UN Security Council that repatriation via Libya could not work because of the humanitarian conditions in the country.
The international principle of non-refoulement prevents people being sent back to countries where there is a threat to their life or freedom; and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights has been interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights “as  providing  an  effective  means  of  protection against all forms of return to places where there is a risk that an individual would be subjected  to  torture,  or  to  inhuman  or  degrading  treatment  or  punishment.”
A significant coalition of agencies working with refugees, including both secular organisations such as Amnesty International and such Christian agencies as Caritas Europa, the Churches’ Commission for Migrants in Europe, the Jesuit Refugee Service, and the ACT Alliance (a global coalition of 143 churches and church-related agencies) has stated: “European governments cannot themselves return people to Libya without breaching the international principle of non-refoulement – as people returned would be at risk of being exposed to serious human rights violations. Thus we see that the new EU policies, which aim to enhance the Libyan authorities’ ability to intercept refugees and migrants at sea and pull them back to Libya, represent a clear attempt to circumvent the EU’s international obligations, in plain disregard of the harsh consequences thousands of men, women and children would be exposed to. “

The agencies asked the European Council to:

  • Facilitate safe mobility by opening and strengthening safe and regular channels to Europe for refugees and migrants including through resettlement, humanitarian admission and humanitarian visas, family reunification, worker mobility across skill levels and student visas. Safeguard the right to seek asylum under all circumstances.
  • Review the plans set out by the Malta Summit to ensure that safeguards for human rights and respect for international law are in place; ensure that the human rights of those on the move are respected, regardless of their status, as set out in the Valletta Action Plan.
  • Guarantee that EU border management policies protect people and their rights, not aim to stop migratory movements. Fundamental freedoms must be upheld, and the security needs of different groups, including the most vulnerable, must be assessed.
  • Take evidence of human rights abuses in Libya seriously and stop any actions that may lead people to be pulled back towards the Libyan coast. The current approach risks violating people’s fundamental rights and the rule of law, including the principle of non-refoulement.
  • Thoroughly assess the human rights situation of migrants and the risks they face in Libya, and undertake objective and genuine impact assessment of the actions funded and coordinated by the EU and support international agencies in ensuring that Libya fulfils its duty to uphold human rights.
  • Demand specific measures to identify and protect vulnerable groups including children, migrants and refugees with disabilities, victims of torture or trafficking and those at risk of discrimination.
Please pray:

  • For those on the move, having fled their home countries and currently making their way to or from Libya.
  • For migrants and refugees held in reception sites in Libya; that they would be treated well and that God would give them peace as they wait with uncertainty about their future.
  • For wisdom and compassion for EU leaders as they look at issues on migration, and that they will hear and heed the concerns raised about the Malta Declaration.
  • That any implementation of the Malta Declaration does not contribute to further instability in the already fragile Libyan situation. Pray for stability for the Libyan government and people

South Sudan, Famine, Bangladesh Workers’ Rights: 19 Feb 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • South Sudan
  • Averting Famine
  • Short Notes: Bangladesh Workers’ Rights, Iraq and Pakistan

There are challenging words in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings. They remind us that the call to holiness and love of neighbour is nothing abstract or easy: it entails everything from ensuring that all – including the “poor and the alien” – have what they need … to taking responsibility for helping each other live rightly … to loving enemies and praying for those who persecute us. As we ponder the readings, it’s good to let their challenge sink in … and to ask for grace to follow what they command.
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South Sudan

Please continue to pray for people affected by the disastrous situation in South Sudan.

In December, the UN warned the country was on the brink of genocide.  Atrocities continue to be perpetrated, and this week a general of the government Sudan People’s Liberation Army, Lieutenant General Thomas Cirillo Swaka (a man who is respected by the international community) resigned saying, “President Kiir and his Dinka leadership clique have tactically and systematically transformed the SPLA into a partisan and tribal army. Terrorising their opponents, real or perceived, has become a preoccupation of the government.” The terrifying and costly impacts of the chaotic situation on local people trying to bring health care and relief to their region can be read here.

South Sudan’s economy is in ruins, with even military families – who would normally be amongst the more privileged – facing extreme hardship. Inflation rose to 830 percent at the end of last year and prices of basic foodstuffs are beyond the reach of most.

The UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that nearly 7.5 million people in South Sudan are in need of humanitarian assistance and say that hunger and malnutrition have reached historic levels. They expect as many as 5 million people to be severely food insecure this year, adding, “more than one million children under age 5 are estimated to be acutely malnourished, including more than 273,600 who are severely malnourished”.

Over 1.5 million people have fled South Sudan since civil war broke out in December 2013,  making this the third largest refugee crisis in the world after Syria and Afghanistan. Some 698,000 refugees are being hosted in Uganda – the number tripling over the course of 6 months. More refugees entered Uganda last year than crossed the Mediterranean (PRI, UNHCR figures).  The UN reported that an average of over 3,300 people a day – more than 46,500 in total – entered during the two weeks between the 25th of January and the 7th of February. This represents more than the total number of asylum seekers being supported by the UK government at the year ending September 2016. And officials reported even greater numbers of people – 4,000 a day – entering in the week prior to February 16th.

Uganda has been lauded internationally for its openness to refugees. In addition to keeping its borders open, it has an official policy of allowing refugees freedom to travel and work, and to access education and health services. It also operates a ‘self-sufficiency policy’ offering refugees small plots of land on which to build houses and grow their own food, as well as basic resources to help with doing so – something which has been shown to benefit surrounding communities as well.

Uganda is endeavouring to do all this on a large scale very rapidly: the Bidibidi refugee camp has received over 270,000 refugees from South Sudan and is now at full capacity, having become one of the world’s largest refugee camps in just 6 months.  A piece from the Norwegian Refugee Council, published also in The Guardian, illustrates some positive stories of refugees and hosts in and around it. Amongst the refugees featured is 17-year-old Mary Kiden, who fled to Uganda from South Sudan last October with her brother and sisters. She expresses a note of hope: “It is good to be in Uganda. They allocated us a piece of land, we have free access to medical services and we feel safe. People were killed in South Sudan. It made me afraid. Here we no longer need to listen to the sound of the guns.”  Never Rukia, a Ugandan who is featured, says, “Wars are no good for the civilians. I am glad Uganda can give them land and provide security. It has some benefits for us as well. There are more goods being sold at the market now. And there are clean water sources available to us, as well as the refugees. I think we should stay together in harmony and share the available resources”.

The volume of refugees entering Uganda has, however, caused stresses in transit sites, refugee camps, and within the host communities. At a transit site in the Moyo district, refugees interviewed by Radio Miraya reported “dire conditions, mentioning a lack of basic necessities ranging from food, water and shelter to toilets and medicines.” Bidibidi has had issues with provision of water, power and food. With respect to food, last August a lack of funding forced the World Food Programme, UNHCR and the government of Uganda to halve the rations of South Sudanese refugees who had been in Uganda for more than a year – and as land becomes more scarce, the plots being given to some newer refugees to cultivate are widely recognised as not capable of supporting their needs. There are also tensions and flare-ups within the camp between refugees from different ethnic groups as the head of the camp, Robert Baryamwesiga, explains: “What is happening over in South Sudan affects the relationships of refugees in the settlement a great deal.”

As another snapshot, in this piece from Medecins sans Frontières, Rose and Richard share their stories of the violence that drove them to flee South Sudan and their experiences in the Bidibidi camp. They describe the relief they have found in Uganda, both in the finding a place of safety and in receiving basic, if limited, provisions.  But Richard, who now works as a translator for MSF, also describes the difficulties faced by people in the camp: “Most of our patients here have malaria. People are sleeping outside or have nowhere to hang the mosquito nets that have been distributed. There is also a lot of diarrhoea. People are neglecting the basics, cutting back on food and water, because they’re in a desperate situation and then they fall ill.” He also recalls a frightening altercation with some members of the local community in a dispute over land.

The Government of Uganda has noted that it cannot continue to absorb refugees well at current levels without greater assistance from the international community.

Please pray:

  • For peace in South Sudan – may God turn the hearts of the violent towards peace, and bring together the right people to work towards a new, just future
  • For healing for those who have suffered and/or are suffering as a result of the conflict.
  • In thanksgiving for all people and countries which are generous in welcoming refugees. Pray that they may receive the assistance that is necessary to enable them to continue their humanitarian efforts.

Averting Famine

South Sudan is one of four countries on the brink of famine. Yemen, Nigeria and Somalia are also at risk. Gareth Owen, humanitarian director of Save the Children, said: “The potential this year is we may have four famines looming, which is a truly scary thought and will stretch our resources. We are at a critical moment.” But the danger extends even more widely, with Owen adding, “Right now, in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, there are 12 million people affected [by food insecurity]. These three countries together look as bad as Somalia in 2011. If you add South Sudan on top of that, with that conflict, and Nigeria, you have millions more. And Yemen has 18 million people. That’s creating this real concern that we are facing a major crisis that we have not seen before.”

In Yemen, the UN estimates that “an alarming 18.8 million people – more than two thirds of the population – are in need of humanitarian assistance. An estimated 10.3 million people are acutely affected and need some form of immediate humanitarian assistance to save and sustain their lives including food, health and medical services, clean water & sanitation and protection. Nearly 3.3 million people – including 2.1 million children – are acutely malnourished while 2 million people remain internally displaced”. Launching an appeal on February 8th to raise US$2.1 billion in assistance for Yemen, Stephen O’Brien, from the UN’s OCHA, said, “Two years of war have devastated Yemen and millions of children, women and men desperately need our help. Without international support, they may face the threat of famine in the course of 2017 and I urge donors to sustain and increase their support to our collective response.”

The FAO report that immediate intervention is needed to assist over 5 million people facing food insecurity in north-east Nigeria. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network says evidence indicates there has already been famine in some inaccessible parts of Borno State and that “There is an elevated likelihood that famine is ongoing and will continue in the inaccessible areas of Borno State”. In its analysis of the situation the FAO say, “The Boko Haram insurgency has led to massive displacements and high levels of food insecurity in the area. Already poor and vulnerable host communities have absorbed large numbers of people fleeing violence, placing considerable pressure on fragile agricultural and pastoral livelihoods, while the insecurity has severely disrupted markets and food availability”.

Oxfam has an appeal for the wider West Africa region, saying “A desperate humanitarian crisis is growing in parts of West Africa as a result of the ongoing conflict with Boko Haram and the military operations to counter them. The violence has spread from north-east Nigeria into neighbouring Niger, Chad and Cameroon forcing 2.6 million people to flee their homes and leaving over 11 million people in need of emergency aid. Unable to grow or buy food, or get to humanitarian aid, millions are going hungry. Thousands of people are estimated to have died already”.

Somalia is also at risk of famine. The short rainy season at the end of last year was poor and there is concern that if the long rainy season, due to start in April, fails, the possibility of famine will return. Already more than 6 million people – over half the population of Somalia – are in need of assistance (according to the FAO and Famine Early Warning Systems Network), with 3 million of these projected to be  “in crisis” or “in emergency” between now and June (up from 1.1 million six months ago).

The UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Peter de Clercq has warned, “we need to rapidly step up the humanitarian response to effectively respond to the extensive needs and avert a famine. If we do not scale up the drought response immediately, it will cost lives, further destroy livelihoods, and could undermine the pursuit of key State-building and peacebuilding initiatives. A drought – even one this severe – does not automatically have to mean catastrophe if we can respond early enough with timely support from the international community.”

Please pray:

  • For local and international organizations seeking to bring relief and aid in the face of multiple, acute crises and the resultant strain on resources and staff.
  • That governments, businesses and people around the world will respond to the extraordinary humanitarian needs rapidly and with generosity.
  • that in all the areas involved, God will bring an end to their conflicts, turn the hearts of the violent towards peace, and satisfy the needs of those who have suffered and are suffering because of the violence.

Short Notes: Bangladesh Workers’ Rights, Iraq and Pakistan

  • “You shall not defraud your neighbor; you shall not steal; and you shall not keep for yourself the wages of a laborer until morning.”Please pray for the safety, well-being – and release – of Bangladeshi labour leaders and garment workers who have been imprisoned after workers struck for a rise in the minimum wage. The minimum monthly wage for people working a 48-hour week (8 hours a day, 6 days a week) in Bangladesh is about $67, a little under £54: a worker on this wage is below the World Bank poverty level. In theory, overtime could give more (many labourers work far more hours) – but overtime abuses are rife, and pay can be docked for any number of causes, from making an error on a piece of work to not meeting a target (which could be 120 to 150 pieces of work an hour for 14 hours). The Asia Floor Wage Alliance has calculated that a living wage in Bangladesh would be $367 (£296) a month. Pray that the workers’ actions will lead to fairer pay and conditions for labourers in Bangladesh and more generally throughout the world. Pray that companies with supply chains in Bangladesh will genuinely press for action in this area.
  • Pray for those who were injured or who mourn the dead in the recent bombing of a street of car dealerships and garages frequented by Shia Muslims in Baghdad, which killed almost 60 people and injured 66. The Islamic State claimed responsibility. Pray, too, for the residents of Western Mosul, which the Iraqi Government is hoping to retake from the Islamic State: there are reports that hundreds of thousands of civilians are suffering from hunger and lack of access to water, and are generally ‘under extreme duress’.  Pray for those injured or left mourning by an attack, also claimed by the Islamic State, on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan. Pray for wisdom for all responding to the attacks and grant that they may act with courage and discernment, and avoid the temptation to mirror the behaviours they fight.

Featured Image: David Lemi, a refugee from South Sudan, photographed near his new home in Bidi Bidi refugee camp, Uganda. Image from Trocaire on Flickr: http://bit.ly/2leoaVZ. Reproduced with thanks via Creative Commons License.

‘The Fast That I Desire’ – Trade, Aid, Food: 5 Feb 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • “The fast that I desire”

This second part of our email ties into the Old Testament passage in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings. Isaiah 58’s call to honour God by living justly is a constant source of inspiration: here are three reflections on phrases from verses 6 and 7.

____________________________________________________________________________
‘The fast that I desire’

To loose the bonds of injustice …

There are many forms of injustice in our world. But this week, as we’re coming up to Fairtrade Fortnight, we’ll focus on just one – the injustices in trade that concentrate power in the hands of wealthier countries and companies and leave small producers of commodities and manufactured goods unable to negotiate fair prices and working conditions.

For many years, the Trade Justice Movement’s logo has been an uneven balance, symbol of the way trade is often tilted against the poor. For Christians, this may bring to mind the prophet Amos, who raged against people who sought to profit unjustly by falsifying balances (Amos 8:5). At the small scale, such falsifications – and the fight against them – can still be a live issue in trade.  A few years ago, in a conversation with local Fairtrade supporters, one Ghanaian producer talked about how her cooperative was helping its members to ensure that the balances purchasers used to weigh products were accurately read, so that the producers got what they were owed. It felt quite Biblical!

On a larger scale, the Fair Trade movement’s standards help to ‘tip the balance’ back towards fairness overall by, for example, requiring companies that purchase Fairtrade goods to pay a price that covers or moves towards covering the costs of sustainable production. Fair Trade can also involve increasing producers’ negotiating power in other ways: when a Fairtrade producer group  was being given unhelpful terms by the government body that controlled trade in their product (and through whom they had to sell), the Fairtrade Foundation ensured that the producer group’s manager received training that enabled him to negotiate a fairer deal.

But Fair Trade is only part of the picture. There are wider questions about the rules of trade. For example, how, while enabling the flow of goods and services, do – or don’t – trade rules  protect workers’ rights, encourage small producers and low-income countries to grow and flourish, and address issues related to the concentration of economic power?

These are questions which are going to become ever more important for us in Britain. We’ll be setting a new trade policy at a time when trade issues are becoming more and more complex, in a world where many major countries explicitly state their intent to pursue national interests above all. How will we respond?  Will the UK, for example, commit to keeping EU rules that allow the poorest countries to export to us without facing tariffs and quotas? Will we negotiate new trade agreements in ways that take into account the good of the weak as well as the power of the strong … both domestically and internationally? (Check out this information from Traidcraft for a discussion of some of the issues)

As Christians seeking to live out the ‘fast’ that God desires, pray:

  • for all who are affected by trade injustice globally – that they may see the day when their mourning is turned to joy
  • for all who are working to tackle injustices in trade, that they may be given wisdom, courage and vision in their work
  • that those undertaking the UK’s – and other countries’ – trade negotiations in the days and years to come will have wisdom and godly vision
  • that we may be mindful of the need to love those neighbours – near and far – who make the goods we use each day.
  • that we will live out our love in daily, small-scale choices that favour justice … and that we’ll support larger-scale choices that favour justice, too.

To undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke

International Justice Mission works to free people from slavery, including such forms of slavery as bonded labour. If you haven’t encountered their work, we’d suggest looking at some of the case studies they’ve recently posted about their activities helping people trapped in bonded labour in India. They’ve joined with local authorities to free people who had been trafficked into bonded labour and to pursue justice in the courts, gaining convictions of those who enslaved and tortured workers. They also offer after-care programmes for those who are released from slavery.

It’s estimated that there are tens of millions of people around the world who are enslaved. In the UK, it’s estimated that there may be up to 13,000 people living in slavery, many of them trafficked.

At a local level, the UK’s Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland, has called on all of us to keep our eyes and ears open for the signs that people might be trafficked:

“To understand where each and every one of us can make a difference and how we can play our part, we must first fully acknowledge this as a criminal phenomenon that can unwittingly interact in our daily lives. We must become intolerant to the presence of modern slavery by making a moral choice – let’s stop using substandard car washes, let’s question the price of our products, let’s look twice at the rough sleeper begging on the street…

Let’s choose to open our eyes to see whether those on farms and construction sites are wearing appropriate clothing and using appropriate gear. Let’s choose to think carefully when we notice a worker who appears injured or malnourished. Let’s choose to stop what we are doing when we see residential homes with curtains constantly closed and countless clients visiting the premises night after night. Let’s choose to give attention to who takes our cash at nail salons and whether the technicians doing the work are open to conversation. Let’s choose to notice when numerous people are being transported from a single home to work in fields for hours on end.”

There’s also the broader question of slavery in supply chains. The UK’s Modern Slavery Act (2015) requires companies with a turnover of more than £36 million to “engage in meaningful due diligence to find risks and produce robust statements detailing the steps they have taken that year to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking from their operations and supply chains. These statements must be approved by the company boards and signed by a company director (or equivalent), and be available from the homepage of the company’s website.” There’s still a long way to go, though, until this is as effective as the proponents of the legislation had hoped. Analysis of companies’ reports, and public engagement with that analysis, are part of the process of making the legislation effective. Organisations such as the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and ECCR, Stop the Traffik and USPG have scrutinised the reports that leading companies have provided, and the latter coalition has provided a series of questions that people can ask any companies in which they have investments. But we need more analysis – and more people need to ask questions, both as investors and as users of the goods and services that companies provide.

As Christians seeking to live out the fast that God desires, pray:

  • for all who are suffering because they or those they care about are enslaved.
  • that we can keep our eyes open for the signs of slavery in our communities and alert local authorities, so that they can free those who are enslaved and bring perpetrators of trafficking to justice.
  • that we can advocate for victims of trafficking to be treated with compassion and justice
  • that we can support those who are working to end slavery in other contexts, and
  • that we can be part of a movement to scrutinise the actions of companies, wherever they are, and to bring greater transparency and justice into supply chains.

Action Points: Could you take a look at Stop the Traffik’s materials on fighting trafficking? They have everything from practical guides giving the signs that someone might be trafficked to guidance for businesses in particular sectors to prayer materials for churches. Could you use the ECCR/Stop the Traffick/USPG questions for businesses?

To share your bread with the hungry

A few years ago, I (Maranda) visited a tiny pre-school housed in a church in a remote settlement near the South African border with Botswana. It was winter, and freezing cold  outside – there had been frost on the ground earlier. And it was cold inside as well: the church had no heating, and the chill came in through the thin windows and the cracks and holes in the metal roof. The children, bundled up in sweaters, fleeces, or – if they were fortunate – parkas, sat on tiny plastic chairs and worked on colouring and other projects. The school couldn’t offer them much in the way of resources – but it offered safety, a sense of order, what enrichment it could on limited resources … and food.

It offered the food despite the fact that the government often wasn’t paying the costs of doing so. Indeed, when I visited, the government was at times failing to pay any of the costs associated with running the pre-school: the women working there hadn’t received a salary in over a year. And yet, they continued working. And the leader told me that when the government money to provide food for the children didn’t come in, the women themselves, despite not being paid, often took food from their own houses so that they could offer the children meals.

As Christians seeking to live out the ‘fast’ that God desires, please pray:

  • for all who are suffering from hunger and malnutrition
  • for all who give sacrificially of their own food so that others may have something to eat
  • for organisations that are working to provide food to people caught up in humanitarian crises
  • for organisations that are working to secure sustainable and equitable access to food for all people in the long term
  • that we, as Christians, may share our bread – literally and figuratively – with those who are hungry

Action Point: If you don’t already, could you share locally? Or with people farther afield? The UN and development agencies presently support millions of people displaced from their food supplies by conflict and natural disaster. News reports indicate that the World Food Programme has just had to halve the rations of 1.4 million displaced Iraqis; in December, they were forced to cut rations for people in Kenya’s refugee camps. Could you donate to the World Food Programme, or to another agency, such as CAFOD, Christian Aid, or Tearfund, which offers humanitarian relief? Could you write to your MP to express thanks for the UK’s contributions – like this one – to helping provide humanitarian relief, so that MPs know there’s a constituency that supports such aid?

Fair Trade Prayer Bookmark

An easy-to-give-out bookmark on high-quality card with a prayer for Fair Trade and a picture of the beautiful grape harvest at the Eksteenskuil Agricultural Cooperative on the front, and a brief explanation of Fair Trade on the back. Helpful to hand out at services, Messy Church, cafe church, coffee mornings …

Order up to 50 free (donations welcome for postage and packing) by contacting us.

Showing a Film about Fair Trade

 

Showing a Fair Trade film, whether as part of a special film night or as part of a service or meeting, can be a great way of introducing people to Fairtrade. A number of churches and groups have asked for recommendations of videos. Some films that church groups often use (such as Black Gold) are full-length and require the purchase of a license. If you’re looking for something shorter and available online here are our nominees for:

“Best Call to Action” It’s not their newest film – but it’s one of their best. The Fairtrade Foundation’s 2010 “Big Swap” animated video is clear: our little swaps can make a big difference for Fairtrade producers and their communities.

 

“Best Introductory Films” The Fairtrade Foundation’s “Fairtrade Matters” (13+ minutes) is not a film you’ll forget. Beautifully produced, it follows tea-pickers Edson and Tsala at home, at work, in church, and at meetings. Along the way it shows what Fairtrade has done for them and their communities – but also picks up just how hard it is for farm labourers to make ends meet.

 

 

“Fairtrade for Beginners” (Naashon Zalk Media, South Africa). Katy January, training manager for a South African fruit farm, goes on a road trip to discover how Fairtrade really works. The film shows the varied nature of Fairtrade in South Africa as Katy visits a smallholder cooperative (Eksteenskuil Agricultural Cooperative), a hired labour Fairtrade farm, and the Fairtrade offices in Cape Town. Occasionally the dialogue doesn’t flow, but the film is comprehensive and interesting – especially as it gives a southern perspective, with a relatively low emphasis on price and a high emphasis on empowerment. Two segments of about 15 minutes each.

“Best Narratives” Shared Interest, which makes loans to Fairtrade producers, has a series of in-depth case studies, in which producers speak about their experiences. Those covered include Mpanga Growers Tea Factory (Uganda, 9 mins); Salom (Kenya, 11 mins); and Rwandan Cooperatives (11 mins – very powerful, deals with genocide and  gender-based violence). Each helps viewers to understand not only Fairtrade production but how, with  proper funding, it can scale up.

“Ending Modern Day Slavery” (CNN) Divine CEO Sophie Tranchell  explains how the company ensures traceability for its Fairtrade cocoa beans. Not the greatest artistic values, but the content is very good if people have questions about the traceability of Fairtrade products. Part of a longer CNN series on child slavery and chocolate. Short (2.5 minutes)

Fairtrade Africa has made a variety of impact films. One of the best in showing how Fairtrade can scale up comes from Ethiopia; another really fascinating one shows the impact of Fairtrade on education in Sireet (Kenya). In the last, Kenyan tea farmers speak about the impact of changing weather patterns on local production and what they are doing to adapt.

Most powerful is almost certainly Jan Nimmo’s ‘Bonita: Ugly Bananas’ – you can view it online, or buy it as a DVD to show a group. The story of Nimmo’s visit to an Ecuadorian banana plantation as its workers peacefully tried to unionise and strike for better conditions – only to be attacked by armed men hired by the company –  is a searing indictment of workers’ treatment and a reminder of why Fairtrade is so important.

Bonita: Ugly Bananas – Director: Jan Nimmo © from Jan Nimmo on Vimeo.

“Lifetime Achievement Awards”  Here are some channels where you can find lots of great Fair Trade films:

  • Fairtrade Africa: Terrific films, designed in most cases for an African audience. Lots of strong statements on impact.
  • Fair Trade Egypt: Great collection of films showing how particular goods (scarves, wooden carvings, etc) are produced. English or English subtitles.
  • Fairtrade Foundation (UK): A huge array of films – the ones done for Fairtrade Fortnight are always very impressive, and there are lots of hidden gems.

Films about bananas are always popular, especially with young people. So here’s a special category of “Top Banana” films …

Banana Growers’ Story, Dominica (WRENMedia) Bit of a surprise package, this one! Nothing flashy – but a terrific account of how Fairtrade banana production really works for small producers. Introduces you to the Joachim family, who walk you through the process, explaining Fairtrade along the way. WRENMedia specialises in making agriculture accessible … good job done here.

The Banana Industry of the Windward Islands (Guardian) Well-produced film does a good job of showing the impact of Hurricane Tomas,  European tariff changes and increased input costs on Windwards farmers.* Interesting to watch in conjunction with Oxfam’s film on the Banana Farmers Recovery Project after the last hurricane, Dean (2009).

The most recent Fairtrade Foundation banana film features Nick Hewer meeting farmers in St Lucia: a good, brief introduction that presents the challenges banana farming in the Windwards faces, as well as some inspiring responses from individuals and cooperatives. (4 minute version; 9 minute version)

Stick with Foncho to make bananas fair (Fairtrade Foundation) Aimed at campaigners – introduces the issues around bananas and supermarkets in a simple and direct way. The Foncho Film for Schools focuses specifically on Foncho and his family, using them as an example of how the Fairtrade price and premium work, as well introducing the wider issues around bananas.

And for fun … Is that a banana I see cycling past a Yorkshire tea room? Yes  … and indeed, not just one banana but a whole “peel-o-ton.” Fairtrade Yorkshire’s marvelously inventive video of banana-costumed cyclists doing part of Le Grand Depart is one for the cycling fans in your church!

Best “Talking Heads” Films …

Prince Charles’ greeting on the Fairtrade Foundation’s 20th birthday celebrations. Emphasis on the impacts of Fairtrade and the way it helps to shape sustainable food systems worldwide. (4:42)

James Mwai, Acting Executive Director, Fairtrade Africa, addressing Fairtrade Supporter Conference 2013. Introduction to Fairtrade Africa, how Fairtrade empowers people and communities, and why UK supporters matter. A very inspiring talk.  (19:44)

Best Musicals …

“The Chocolate Song, ça c’est le Max,” From Max Havelaar – starring lots of Kuapa Kokoo producers, children, Ghanaian musicians and Belgian singer Pieter Embrechts.

Fairtrade rap
film made by a student at Bishop’s Stortford school: catchy, good images.

 

And crossing over to the “Foreign Films” category … These may not be so great for groups, but they’re super just to watch … and if you have a local foreign language speaking group, might make a nice way to introduce Fair Trade into that context.  UK films tend to focus on English-speaking countries, which means we rarely get coverage of certain products, such as dates. But two sets of films by a Brussels-based consultant look at Fairtrade date production in Algeria, one focusing on the partnership among Tunisian cooperatives, a Tunisian exporter and a Swiss Fairtrade retailer; the other on a Tunisian company exporting Fairtrade and organic dates. Really terrific stuff that looks at the wider picture, including the local economy, the impacts of Fairtrade on agriculture and local employment, etc. The only downside … it’s in French (or other languages with French subtitles).

And just for fun…

  • you don’t actually need to know any languages to understand this film about the calming power of Fairtrade chocolate
  • this Spanish film reimagines the way that we order coffee. Make mine a tall environmental responsibility … milk, no sugar.

The Fair Trade Resource Network also has an annotated list of online films from various places.  Are there any films that you’d recommend?

Wildlife and Biodiversity, Syria, Drought, Elections, Fairtrade, Migration – 28 February 2016

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Short Notes: Syria, Southern Africa’s drought, Elections, Fairtrade Fortnight, Europe and migration
  • Loving God’s world: wildlife and biodiversity (World Wildlife Day, 3 March)

Why do bad things happen? It’s a frequent question – and in an attempt to rationalise, people all too frequently blame the victims. If something has gone wrong for them, it must be their fault! But in this week’s  Revised Common Lectionary Gospel, Jesus disputes that analysis. “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans?” he asks – clearly implying that they were not. At the same time, he calls all people to repentance and warns of sin’s destructive consequences.

A complex message! Where today do we see people being blamed for suffering that is not of their making – and how can we help to `comfort and defend them? And where do we see sin which may cause destruction – and how can we help to turn ourselves and others away from it?


Short Notes: Syria, Southern Africa’s drought, Elections, Fairtrade Fortnight, Europe and migration

  • As we write this, the Syrian truce has begun and seems to be holding, despite some violations. Please pray that it may provide a respite for civilians who have been caught in the middle of the fighting. Pray too that it may lead towards moves to establish a stable, just peace.
  • A long-running Southern African drought has been exacerbated by El Niño and is hitting many countries hard: the Guardian ran an article on Mozambique recently, and Al Jazeera did a strong story as well.  Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba of Cape Town also discussed the impact of the drought at an earlier stage in a beautiful and powerful video he did last year for the Mass Lobby of Parliament.A meeting of the Southern African Develoment Community (the Southern African nation states) on Friday estimated that 28 million people were vulnerable and in need of relief. Please pray for an end to the drought. Pray also for those affected by its impacts and those working to mitigate the effects of the impacts.  If you would like to donate to relief efforts, please contact us for options.
  • There were a number of elections at the end of last week – most notably in Iran, which was voting for its parliament and Assembly of Experts, clerics who have the responsibility of choosing the next Supreme Leader should a vacancy arise during the Assembly’s eight-year term. The election was seen as something of a referendum on the reformist President Hassan Rouhani and his recent nuclear deal with the Western powers. Early indications are that, despite the fact that only 200 reformist candidates were allowed to stand, reformist and independent candidates have done well in the parliamentary elections, and no single faction will dominate. Please pray for wisdom for all elected, and that the results help to lead to greater openness, justice and respect for human rights – including freedom of religion – in Iran. (Coverage: Al Jazeera, Daily Star (Lebanon)Financial Times, Guardian, Le Monde)This Tuesday, a number of US states will hold primary elections, voting for delegates to the party conventions that nominate presidential candidates. In a race distinguished thus far by unusually negative campaigning, pray for wisdom and discernment for voters and candidates.
  • Fairtrade Fortnight starts on Monday, with the theme ‘Sit down for breakfast, stand up for farmers’. We’ll be focusing on Fairtrade next week – but please start praying now that the Fairtrade will continue to create positive change for all involved with it, whether as producers, suppliers, retailers or consumers.  Our Fairtrade prayers and resources can be found here.
  • The UK is much concerned with our EU Referendum, but in an editorial on Friday, French newspaper Le Monde warned that the EU’s lack of a collective and coherent policy on migration threatens Europe more generally: “Shocked by the impact of the wave of migration, Europe is fragmenting, breaking up, taking itself apart … [unless there is a major change] historians will without doubt date the beginning of the disintegration of Europe to this matter, and to these years.”The immediate cause of the article was a summit convened by Austria, in which the countries of the ‘Balkan route’ – both EU members and non-EU members – met to work out ways to ‘isolate’ Greece and contain migration within its borders. Greece, Germany, and the European Commission were not informed – and Greece has recalled its ambassador from Austria in protest.  But as Natalie Nougayrède points out, the lack of EU policy coherence results from decisions by – and affects – all countries. And the need for cooperation – for the sake of both refugees’ safety and countries’ stability – is immense.As European ministers prepare to make decisions on border controls and migration policies, please pray for wisdom and discernment on all sides. Pray too for the safety of all who have fled conflict and oppression, whether to Europe or to other parts of the world. And pray for an end to the conflicts and injustices that force people to flee from beloved places and people.

Loving God’s World: Wildlife and biodiversity

World Wildlife Day is 3 March, so for this week, we are focusing on expressing love through care for wildlife and biodiversity.

The Lord said to Job,
Where were you when I laid out the Earth’s foundation… while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?
Do you know when the mountain goat gives birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Who has let the wild ass go free?
Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
Do you give the horse its might?
Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up?
Look at Behemoth, which I made just as I made you. He eats grass like an ox. His limbs are as bars of iron. Under the lotus plant it lies, in the cover of the reeds and in the marsh.
Who has first given to me that I should repay?
Whatsoever is under the whole heaven is mine.
From Job 38 – 41

The final chapters of the book of Job read as a litany of celebration: God exults in the complexity of his creation and the wonders of his work. The sense of God’s pride, care and intimate knowledge is reflected elsewhere in scripture, for example in the Psalms: “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow builds her nest and raises her young at a place near your altar, O LORD” (Psalm 84:3) – and in Jesus’ words: “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?” Jesus asks. “Yet not one of them falls to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

In his paper on the Bible and Biodiversity, Sir Ghillean Prance says, “The Bible is biodiverse from Genesis to Revelation”. He cites God’s post-flood covenant in Genesis 9 as “the real biblical basis for the preservation of biodiversity”, with its repeated emphasis that God’s covenant is not simply with Noah and his descendants but with “every living creature.” He goes on to explore biodiversity and its preservation in the books of the law, the psalms and proverbs, the major and minor prophets and the New Testament, finding deep wells to draw from. Martin and Margot Hodson echo this view, writing, “the pages of the Bible are buzzing with insects, alive to the song of birds, majestic in their description of trees and awesome in appreciation of the strength of large animals. The Bible contains the names of countless species of trees and animals. There are thirteen different Hebrew words for owls alone and nine for locusts.” (Cherishing the Earth, p. 35)

In his critique of Genesis 1, and in particular the vexed question of what “dominion” over the earth by humankind means, Professor Richard Bauckham writeswhen we get to the creation of humans on the sixth day and we read God’s command to us to have dominion over the creatures, we already know that what God is entrusting to our care is something of priceless value… [O]ne of the things God delights in [is] the sheer, abundant variety of the creatures… We hear of fruit trees of every kind, seed-bearing plants of every kind, sea creatures of every kind, birds of every kind, wild animals of every kind, domestic animals of every kind, creeping things (i.e. reptiles and insects) of every kind. In all, that phrase occurs ten times. This is an account of creation that celebrates biodiversity”. Dominion is therefore taking care of God’s cherished creation and “responsible rule that does not exploit its charges.”

Similarly, in his exploration of the Bible and Biodiversity Reverend Dave Bookless concludes, “This world and all its creatures (human and non-human) belong to God and exist to bring glory to God… Every species matters, irrespective of its usefulness to humanity. Avoidable extinctions damage the integrity of God’s world, erase something of God’s self-revelation in creation, and silence elements of creation’s worship of God. Humanity has a divine vocation in reflecting God’s character towards the animal kingdom through encouraging the flourishing of biodiversity and resisting its depletion. This is both a missional task to be fostered as a special vocation for some, and part of the wider calling of all Christ’s disciples”.

Thus the sheer variety of life on Earth matters for its own sake.

But it is also vital for our own (humanity’s) survival. “Ultimately we rely totally on the ecological connectivity and biodiversity of this beautiful blue pearl in space, the Earth, whose future is in our hands. So we dismiss the needs of other species at our peril”, writes Dr Andrew Gosler, Research Lecturer in Ornithology and Conservation at Oxford University.

That God’s creatures and biodiversity are under threat because of mankind is not in doubt. Whilst the extinction of species is a natural phenomenon, current rates of extinction are vastly in excess of background rates (around a thousand times higher). Such dramatic loss has been described as “defaunation” with scientists arguing that we have entered a new geological epoch, the “anthropocene”.

As do other commentators, the World Wildlife Fund regard habitat loss as the leading cause of biodiversity loss. All types of habitat, from forests to lakes to swamps, have been cleared for industrial development, housing and roads, and exploited for human consumption. Destruction of rainforests and coral reefs has been the greatest source of biodiversity loss; rainforests have been eliminated from 50% of the area on which they formerly existed. The FAO points to the impacts of agriculture on biodiversity over the millennia, with ever-increasing food production driving the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural production. Human population growth is therefore one of the factors impacting biodiversity; pollution (including from synthetic nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer use) is another.

Climate change is particularly inimical to biodiversity. A 2014 IPCC report highlights the widespread impacts of climate change on many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species in terms of their altered geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions. Whilst it says that, as yet, only a few recent species extinctions can be attributed with high confidence to climate change, it is known that there were significant species extinctions in previous epochs, when natural global climate change was at a slower rate than we are currently experiencing. If global temperatures rise 4oC above pre-industrial levels scientists have projectedthat around 57% of plants and 34% of animals are likely to lose more than half of their present climatic habitat range by the 2080s.

Given this somewhat gloomy assessment, is there anything being done to address biodiversity loss… is there anything more hopeful?

We are currently midway through the UN’s Decade on Biodiversity to implement the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity. This includes the Aichi Biodiversity Targets which address areas such as tackling the underlying causes of biodiversity loss, reducing pressure on biodiversity and promoting sustainability, and safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity. In addition, Goals 14 and 15 of the new Sustainable Development Goals set out a number of specific targets which would protect biodiversity (for example, reducing marine pollution, establishing marine and coastal conservation areas, halting deforestation, reducing the degradation of natural habitats) – with the overall ambition of halting biodiversity loss.

In his recent paper, “We have 15 years to halt biodiversity loss, can it be done?” Dr Richard Pearson, Reader of Biodiversity at UCL, cites several reasons for hope. These include: protected-area coverage is increasing globally, sustainable practices in industries such as fishing and forestry are becoming established, responsible investment is becoming more mainstream, 184 countries have established National Biodiversity strategies and Action Plans, and there are specific conservation success stories. He concludes, “It will take time to slow and turn around the juggernaut that is biodiversity loss, and everyone must pull in the same direction in order to shift course. The period over which the new SDGs will run, from now until 2030, will be absolutely crucial for making this happen. There are indications that things are beginning to turn around. Hints that we can do this. It would be a big mistake to dismiss the biodiversity target as a fairy tale”.

So what are some of the practical actions we can take, so that we don’t unwittingly contribute to the problem? How can we show our love for God’s wonderful world and respect for his creatures? As for last week, a definitive list is beyond the capacity of this short piece; instead, we offer here some “top tips” – several of which were kindly provided by colleagues with a passion in this area.

Reduce your ecological footprint:

  • You can calculate your ecological footprint and get a personalised action plan here: the One Plant Living Challenge.
  • In his paper, 10 things you can do to help biodiversity, Dr David Hooper emphasises the prime importance of reducing consumption. Making the connection between demand for new resources, habitat conversion, energy usage and extra waste going to landfill might be obvious, but I (Elizabeth) always need reminding…

Plastics:

  • Reduce use of plastic. There are lots of ideas here: my plastic-free life and here: Two years of living plastic-free, how I did it – both from people who’ve been trying to go plastic-free. For a specifically UK perspective, see here: Plastic Free UK.
  • Stop using products with plastic microbeads in them. These tiny non-biodegradable particles are added to a host of personal care products (including toothpaste) and end up in the “Plastic Soup” in the world’s oceans – where they pass along the marine food chain. For Smartphone users an App is available which you can use to scan barcodes to find out whether the product contains microbeads. Greenpeace has recently launched a petition urging the UK Government to follow the lead of the USA and Canada in banning their use.
  • Never throw away plastic bags, too many finish up injuring wildlife injuring wildlife

Home and garden:

Palm oil:

Palm oil is the world’s most popular vegetable oil, currently accounting for over 65% of all vegetable oils traded internationally. It is currently found in around half of all packaged supermarket foods and is also used in detergents, cosmetics and biofuels. And its use is increasing. Millions of hectares of tropical rainforests have been destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations, with a devastating impact on biodiversity.

What can we do?

The World Wildlife Fund for Nature argues that boycotting palm oil is not the answer but that sustainable palm oil is. CSPO stands for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil and means the oil was grown on a plantation that “was established on land that did not contain significant biodiversity, wildlife habitat or other environmental values, and meets the highest environmental, social and economic standards as set out by the RSPO” (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Ethical Consumer do encourage a boycott of products from companies that aren’t currently using 100% responsibly sourced palm oil and provide a helpful list of palm-oil free and sustainable palm-oil products here: Ethical Consumer guidance.

RSPO certification is not without its critics. Greenpeace argues that RSPO standards do not prohibit deforestation and peatland destruction. These criticisms appear to have been addressed in the recently announced “RSPO NEXT” voluntary add-on criteria for RSPO members.

Traidcraft have introduced FairPalminto some of their products – a fair trade, sustainable palm oil grown by smallholder farmers in West Africa alongside other crops.

Finally… campaign on climate change, get involved in A Rocha (the world’s biggest Christian biodiversity NGO), and get your church signed up to Eco Church.

With thanks to Martin Hodson, David Morgan and Mike Perry for their suggestions.

Fair Trade Prayers from CCOW and Asha Handicrafts

Are you looking for prayers for your Sunday service … or for a special Fair Trade service? CCOW Fair Trade Prayers gathers together worship materials that CCOW has prepared for Fairtrade Fortnight resources over the years. We also have available Prayers from Fair Trade Partners Asha — lovely prayers shared with us by friends at Asha Handicrafts in India.