Manchester & Egypt, Sainsbury’s and Fairtrade, Tobacco, Climate Prayers – 28 May 2017

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Manchester and Egypt
  • Sainsbury’s and Fairtrade
  • World No Tobacco Day
  • Short Note: Pray and Fast Prayer Points

In the Revised Common Lectionary readings this week, Jesus says: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” An appropriate reading for this first Sunday of Thy Kingdom Come! Pray that people everywhere may come to know Christ.
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Manchester and Egypt

#Egypt #Manchester #Westminster #Paris #Berlin #Stockholm #Nigeria #Pakistan #Iraq#FellowshipInSuffering #StrengthInPrayer #PowerInLove

Tweet from Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom

The tweet above, from Bishop Angaelos, came just after we learned that the week that had begun with sorrow in Manchester was ending with sorrow in Egypt. As a Bishop in the Coptic Orthodox Church, Bishop Angaelos understands well the fellowship in suffering that unfortunately unites people in so many parts of the world. As we pray for those affected by this week’s attacks, we also lift before God the many still suffering from previous violence, whether acts of terrorism or acts undertaken as part of more conventional conflicts.

Prayers for Those Affected by Manchester Bombing

Prayer Points for Those Affected by Recent Attacks in Egypt (taken from statements)

 

Sainsbury’s and Fairtrade

The announcement on 23 May by Sainsbury’s that it plans to replace its own-brand Fairtrade Red Label,  Gold Label, green and rooibos teas with a new ‘Fairly Traded’ brand (press release and documents) has caused concern among both Fairtade producers and Fairtrade consumers.

A fuller briefing paper will be available shortly, but in summary, the changes to tea are part of a broader proposed change in Sainsbury’s sourcing of what it describes as its “35 key crops and ingredients” – ultimately including not only tea but also, by 2020, other Fairtrade products such as coffee, bananas and sugar.

The new  programme offers benefits for farmers – tailored advice to help deal with the challenges of climate change, for example, and long term Memoranda of Understanding promising purchasing and volume commitments.

But a sustainable supply chain established by a major retailer is not the same thing as Fairtrade, where the aim is not merely to have sustainability and traceability but to redress the balance between producers and the major buyers. And this is where the new programme seems much weaker than Fairtrade: as Traidcraft’s CEO said: “We fear that this new scheme from Sainsbury’s may instead consolidate the power of the retailer over the supply chain.”

The new Sainsbury’s programme would require producers to agree to a new set of ‘Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards’ established by the supermarket in conjunction with a global risk compliance firm into which the affected producer groups appear to have had no direct input. Information released publicly thus far does not make clear who will determine the programme’s guaranteed minimum prices. And crucially, the programme removes the ‘social premium’ – the money paid to producers for community and business development – from the producers’ direct control, forcing them to apply to a UK-based ‘Sainsbury Foundation’ to get funding for any proposed projects.

This last point was the grounds on which Fairtrade Africa refused the partnership and the Fairtrade Foundation announced itself unable to participate. We would strongly recommend reading the entirety of an open letter posted on the Fairtrade Africa website, which explains their reasoning. The following extracts give a sense of the arguments:

“Fairtrade is owned 50% by the producers it represents and we, Fairtrade tea farmers, workers, producer members of Fairtrade Africa, are unanimous in our decision to reject this unequal partnership with the Sainsbury’s Foundation. We believe it will strip us of rights and benefits attained over the years under the Fairtrade system.

Our position is based on the response of our representatives who heard directly about the detail of the model from Sainsbury’s who recently visited Kenya and Malawi. Whilst we appreciate Sainsbury’s overall aim and ambition to improve their supply chains, we are fundamentally opposed to their plans to take over the control and management of Fairtrade Premium …. the proposed ring-fencing of the Fairtrade Premium is  unacceptable and we have outlined this to them as a non-negotiable. As producers we are very aware that when consumers choose Fairtrade purchases, they expect the benefits to go directly to producers. Premium is not donor money but is created through a commitment to purchase Fairtrade products by conscious consumers …

We are particularly concerned that within the proposed model, Sainsbury’s approval process means that any project requested by producers in Africa can be rejected by a few decision makers in the UK. This process will jeopardise our existing long term development strategies and further threaten   premium pooled projects from our other committed Fairtrade buyers.

We told Sainsbury’s loud and clear: “Your model will bring about disempowerment”. We are extremely concerned about the power and control that Sainsbury’s seeks to exert over us which actually feels reminiscent of colonial rule. We work for, OWN our product and OWN our premium. We see the proposed approach as an attempt to replace the autonomous role which Fairtrade brings and replace it with a model which no longer balances the power between producers and buyers.

There are many questions yet to be answered, but as we await answers, please pray:

  • 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 and of Sainsbury’s as they consider ways forward
  • 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.

If you would like to take action:

  • if you are a representative of an institution (town, village, school, diocese, district or synod, etc) that has a commitment to Fairtrade, please email us for guidance.
  • If you would like to take action as an individual, there is a petition on Change.org.

 

World No Tobacco Day

Most people are aware that tobacco has a staggeringly deleterious effect on both personal and public health. But as the theme of this year’s World No Tobacco day makes clear, its impacts go well beyond the sphere of health – creating “a millstone around the neck of global development”.

What are some of the impacts of tobacco? Is there any good news? And what can be done to counter tobacco’s deadly impacts?

Smoking Rates and Health Impacts

A recent analysis of the prevalence of smoking globally and the disease burden attributable to it, published in The Lancet (full article here; editorial comment here), found that “worldwide, one in four men, and a total of 933 million people, are estimated to be current daily smokers…. Half of these, or half a billion people alive today, can be expected to be killed prematurely by their smoking unless they quit.”  In 2015, 11.5% of global deaths (6.4 million) were attributable to smoking and smoking was the second leading risk factor for early death and disability worldwide.

The prevalence of smoking is actually falling globally. Between 1990 and 2015 there was a 28% reduction in the prevalence of smoking amongst men, and a 34% reduction amongst women. Rates amongst adolescents also fell significantly in this period – from 16.1% to 10.6% for men and from 4.8% to 3.0% for women. This is all clearly encouraging. However, the pace of reduction varied from country to country, with greater reductions being seen in high socio-demographic index countries and Latin America, “probably reflecting concerted efforts to implement strong tobacco control policies and programmes”. Furthermore, even though low- and middle-income countries  saw variable decreases in smoking prevalence, the overall disease burden attributable to smoking in these countries increased due to population growth and ageing. And the majority of smokers – around 80% – live in these countries.

Because of these demographics, overall global deaths due to smoking are expected to rise in the coming years. In an editorial on the imperative of tobacco elimination, The Lancet says, “Currently, around 6 million people die from tobacco use every year, a figure that is projected to rise to 8 million by 2030 unless stronger measures are taken. Most (80%) of deaths are expected to occur in low-income and middle-income countries, and everywhere tobacco use is concentrated in the poorest and most vulnerable people”.

Impacts on Child Labourers

Whilst the diseases caused by smoking are well known, some of the other impacts of tobacco are less often discussed. For example, children who work in tobacco farming are especially vulnerable to ‘green tobacco sickness’, caused by the absorption of nicotine through the skin as a result of handling wet tobacco leaves. Ayu, a 13-year old girl from Indonesia who helps her parents cultivate tobacco, described to Human Rights Watch the symptoms she experiences when harvesting tobacco: “I was throwing up when I was so tired from harvesting and carrying the [harvested tobacco] leaf. My stomach is like, I can’t explain, it’s stinky in my mouth. I threw up so many times…. My dad carried me home. It happened when we were harvesting. It was so hot, and I was so tired…. The smell is not good when we’re harvesting. I’m always throwing up every time I’m harvesting.” Human Rights Watch says these symptoms are consistent with acute nicotine poisoning.

The particular threat to children from tobacco makes it especially appropriate that next weekend is the Viva Network World weekend of Prayer for Children at Risk. Viva is an international charity focused on releasing children from poverty and abuse.

Wider Impacts on Development

This year, World No Tobacco Day focuses on the wider threat tobacco poses for development. In a short video produced for this year’s campaign, Dr Douglas Bettcher, WHO Director for the Prevention of Non Communicable Diseases, says, “It’s not just health that tobacco damages. Tobacco use is a major barrier to sustainable development on a number of fronts: food security, gender equity, education, economic growth and environment just to name a handful. It is a millstone around the neck of global development…. [Low- and middle-income countries] bear almost 40% of the global economic costs of smoking [with] health expenditure and lost productivity estimated at over US $1.4 trillion – a truly staggering figure”.

The US National Cancer Institute’s monograph on The Economics of Tobacco and Tobacco Control expands on the connections between poverty, development and tobacco saying, “Tobacco use is concentrated among the poor and other vulnerable groups, and tobacco use accounts for a significant share of the health disparities between the rich and poor. These disparities are exacerbated by a lack of access to health care and the diversion of household spending from other basic needs, such as food and shelter, to tobacco use. Moreover, tobacco use contributes to poverty, as illnesses caused by tobacco lead to increased health care spending and reduced income.” More specific statistics were presented at a World Bank event, reported on by William Savedoff in his blog for the Center for Global Development. He writes, “Average consumption of cigarettes is more than twice as high among the poorest quintile than the richest in countries like the Philippines, Thailand, and Uruguay. Researchers at the event presented studies on Chile and Armenia that demonstrated how the poor are more likely than the rich to smoke, to die from smoking, to suffer ill health and high medical costs from smoking, and to impoverish themselves and their children by smoking.”

Where does responsibility lie and what can be done to change this situation?

The Lancet and other commentators are striking in their condemnation of tobacco companies. In his editorial ‘Death, Disease and Tobacco’ John Britton writes, “Responsibility for this global health disaster lies mainly with the trans national tobacco companies, which clearly hold the value of human life in very different regard to most of the rest of humanity”. William Savedoff’s blog is similarly damning – reflected in its title, ‘The World’s Most Profitable Disaster: Tobacco’. He writes, “[Tobacco companies] profit immeasurably from selling cigarettes. Prabhat Jha estimates that every $10,000 in profit is associated with one premature death… And profits are huge… Cigarette companies are one of the best investments you can find.”

Also remarkably consistent is the call for increased taxation to reduce the demand for tobacco – and consequently its adverse impacts. The WHO say, “Tobacco taxes are the most cost-effective way to reduce tobacco use, especially among young and poor people. A tax increase that increases tobacco prices by 10% decreases tobacco consumption by about 4% in high-income countries and about 5% in low- and middle-income countries”. Dr Douglas Bettcher expands on this saying, “Increasing tobacco tax and prices is one of the most effective yet least utilized control measures that countries can use…. Tobacco taxation is a unique tool for reducing non-communicable diseases, death and generating revenues for governments to support universal health care… If all countries increased taxes by just one international dollar (about 80 US cents) an extra US $140 billion would be generated… This windfall of funds could be used to implement the Sustainable Development Goals.” William Savedoff puts it particularly succinctly when he writes, “The bottom line: raising tobacco taxes will save lives. Tripling excise taxes around the world would double prices, reduce consumption by about one-third and avoid 200 million deaths in this century.”

 

Please pray:

  • In thanksgiving for all the campaigns that have led to a reduction in the prevalence of smoking world wide – and for the people behind these initiatives.
  • For all young people affected by tobacco – those whose health is damaged by second hand smoke, young people tempted to start smoking and those affected by working in the tobacco industry.
  • For investors to understand the consequences of their investment choices and to divest from tobacco.
  • For imagination and determination on the part of policy makers to increase measures, including taxation, which will lead to reduced tobacco demand.

 

Short Note: Pray and Fast Prayer Points

The June Pray and Fast for the Climate prayer points are now available. They include information about the UK election, progress on renewable energy, developments in the earth’s oceans (and responses to those developments), new campaigns, and more. Download them here.

One further prayer point for this week relates to the G7 communique, which states:

“The United States of America is in the process of reviewing its policiest on climate change and on the Paris Agreement and thus is not in a position to join the consensus on these topics. Understanding this process,  the Heads of State and of Government of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom, and the Presidents of the European Council and of the European Commission reaffirm their strong commitment to swiftly implement the Paris Agreement, as previously stated at the Ise-Shima Summit.”

This is the outcome of apparently quite intense negotiations, in which participants in the meeting attempted to persuade the United States of the importance of remaining in the Agreement and honouring commitments.

Give thanks that the other members of the G7 stood firm in their commitment and pray that they will match words with deeds.

President Trump has stated that he will make his decision on the Paris Agreement this week. Pray for wisdom for him and for his advisors as they make their decision and that if the US does stay in the Paris Agreement it does so in a way that is constructive.

Featured Image Photocredit: Heart of Candles and Flower, James O’Hanlon, used under Creative Commons License.