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Speak Up, Charles Scribner, Cholera in Yemen, Fairtrade Update, Sea Sunday – 2 July 2017

In this week’s email:

  • Speak Up
  • Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner
  • Cholera in Yemen
  • Fairtrade Update
  • Coming Up: Sea Sunday

Jeremiah is the focus of one of this week’s Revised Common Lectionary Old Testament readings. The context is that Jeremiah has been called to prophesy prolonged service to a foreign kingdom when the false prophets are speaking about a return of the exiles and a restoration of the Kings of Judah. Are there places today where we are seeking words that promise a false peace when God is calling us to a faithful acceptance of challenge?

Speak Up

This coming week is the latest ‘Speak Up Week of Action’, in which the Climate Coalition and its members are encouraging people around the UK to speak with their MPs about climate change.

The focus is on asking MPs to “reflect their constituents’ concerns about climate change by asking the Prime Minister to:

  • 1) Show global climate leadership by working with others to implement the Paris agreement
  • 2) Ensure government departments work together to produce a strong emissions reduction plan
    • Unlocks local and community energy
    • Cuts energy waste in homes
    • Tackles emissions and air pollution from vehicles”

If you would like to undertake action, you can either attend your MP’s surgery or write to your MP, noting that it’s the Week of Action and that you have some concerns and requests. The Climate Coalition has an outline briefing on what to say (p.13 of the Action Guide): we would recommend in addition that you ask your MP to ask the Prime Minister how she intends to implement the Climate Change Committee’s most recent recommendations. The recommendations were published this week: a summary can be found here.

If you would like a template letter, please email us. If you are meeting – or plan in the future to meet – your MP and would like the brilliant new Hope for the Future booklet on preparing for such meetings, please also email.

And please pray:

  • that many people will participate in the Speak Up Week and will communicate to their MPs that there is a constituency for climate action
  • that this week’s discussions will begin or continue fruitful, constructive relationships between people concerned about climate change and their MPs
  • that the Government will respond by working to implement the Paris Agreement and taking rapid action to support local and community energy and to tackle energy waste in homes and emissions from vehicles.

Why I care about the environment: Charles Scribner

As this month’s Pray and Fast prayer points note, Donald Trump’s removing the US from the Paris Agreement – and his government’s attacks on environmental legislation and funding more generally – have had the perhaps unanticipated impact of galvanising many in the US who remain committed to care for the environment.

US Christians are at the forefront of many environmental initiatives, and we’re delighted this week to launch a series of ‘Why I care about the environment’ articles reflecting their perspectives. The first of these is by Charles Scribner, the Executive Director of the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, “a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving water quality, habitat, recreation, and public health throughout the Black Warrior River watershed.”

Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt, the controversial Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, are currently seeking to weaken, postpone implementation of or repeal legislation around water pollution – so it’s a particularly appropriate time to hear from Charles Scribner and to keep him and the vital Riverkeeper work in our prayers. We’re hugely grateful for this piece – and we pray:

  • in thanksgiving for Charles Scribner’s work and the work of the Riverkeeper movement and the Waterkeeper Alliance
  • for the Black Warrior Riverkeeper and its work to protect one of Alabama’s richest sources of water and biodiversity
  • for all the Waterkeepers, as they seek to “strengthen and grow a global network of grassroots leaders protecting everyone’s right to clean water”
  • for wisdom and courage for all who are seeking to counter moves to weaken environmental protection rules, in the US and worldwide


Cholera in Yemen

The cholera crisis in Yemen has reached exceptional proportions: as of the 1st of July, some 246,000 cases have been reported since the outbreak began, and 1,500 people have died since late April. The deputy head of the International Committee of the Red Cross’s delegation to Yemen writes: “Yemen now suffers three-way tragedy: a population under siege, suffering the violence of war and unable to work or access nutritious food or health care; an economic collapse that has led to a rise in criminality; and now a devastating health crisis. This all leads to what could be the largest cholera outbreak of our lifetime.”

The directors of UNICEF and the World Health Organization noted: “This deadly cholera outbreak is the direct consequence of two years of heavy conflict. Collapsing health, water and sanitation systems have cut off 14.5 million people from regular access to clean water and sanitation, increasing the ability of the disease to spread. Rising rates of malnutrition have weakened children’s health and made them more vulnerable to disease. An estimated 30,000 dedicated local health workers who play the largest role in ending this outbreak have not been paid their salaries for nearly 10 months.”

There is some hope that a dramatic scaling up of work undertaken by agencies is beginning to see a reduction in deaths – but the situation remains critical.

Please pray:

  • for all affected by cholera, asking God to bring hope and healing to the people with the disease and those loving and caring for them.
  • in thanksgiving for the dedicated health workers labouring – despite, in many cases, lack of equipment, medication and pay – to prevent and treat cholera. Pray that God gives them strength in the face of difficulty and that they are able to access the medicines and equipment they need. Pray that they will also be able to get the pay they need for themselves and their families.
  • in thanksgiving that parties to the conflict are now allowing medical assistance into areas where aid has previously been blocked.
  • for a just end to the conflict that is devastating Yemeni’s lives and Yemen’s  infrastructure and that is creating the circumstances where cholera can flourish.
  • Pray for wisdom for those leading efforts to press for diplomatic resolution of the conflict – and to hold all parties accountable for their actions in the conflict.

Please act:

  • Could you donate to the ICRC or MSF, which are two of the biggest providers of medical assistance to people affected by cholera in Yemen? (MSF does not have specific appeals, so the donation is to their general fund)
  • Or could you donate to any one of the many charities (eg Christian Aid, Tearfund, Oxfam) offering assistance in the country?

Fairtrade Update

A few weeks ago we reported on the worrying development that Sainsbury’s was preparing to pull the Fairtrade label from some of its own brand tea (and rooibos tea) products, replacing it with a “fairly traded” label as part its new ‘Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme’. We noted grave concerns around this, centering on the lack of transparency in the process and Sainsbury’s refusal to allow producers direct control of the equivalent of the Fairtrade premium; we’re also very concerned about the misleading nature of the ‘fairly traded’ label.

Since then the ‘Fairly Traded’ tea has gone on sale – and there have been several further developments:

  • ISEAL, a major organisation which “represents the movement of credible and innovative sustainability standards,” issued a statement noting that, while Sainsbury’s announcement included a statement of intention to apply for ISEAL membership, “Sainsbury’s Sustainability Standards Programme and its tea pilot are not endorsed by ISEAL and Sainsbury’s has not applied for, nor obtained, ISEAL membership.” Indeed, ISEAL “did not have any involvement in setting up the tea pilot or knowledge of it prior to the public announcement.””The principles of transparency and engagement,” ISEAL added, “are two Credibility Principles that underpin good practice when setting up and implementing a credible sustainability standards system. ISEAL strongly encourages Sainsbury’s to uphold the Credibility Principles to which it has publically committed.”
  • The Fairtrade Foundation has countered Sainsbury’s explanation that the new programmes were designed to help farmers deal with climate change by pointing to Fairtrade’s own work in this area. It has also issued a strong, clear statement of why producer empowerment – through things like self-determination in the use of the premium – is such an important part of Fairtrade.
  • Some of the founding members of the Ethical Trading Initiative and the Fairtrade Foundation – including Christian Aid, CAFOD, Oxfam and Traidcraft – have written an open letter to Sainsbury’s, expressing “a number of serious concerns.” These included:
    • seeing “‘own brand’ certification standards as a step backwards in tackling major issues related to poverty and environmental sustainability,” as such standards undermine collaborative work across sectors.
    • the sense that the labelling is misleading: “Products sourced in such a different way to both Fairtrade certification and Fair Trade principles will mislead consumers if branded as ‘fairly traded’.”
    • the failure of the proposed standards to address issues around wages [The Fairtrade Foundation now requires plantations to have a plan for raising wages towards a living wage]
    • the disempowering of farmers: “Removing decision-making on the use of premiums from farmer organisations goes against the clear evidence that financial decision-making power for workers and farmers is essential to help them realise human rights, improve environmental sustainability and increase economic development.”
    • the apparent lack of “meaningful consultation of trade unions, workers or farmers’ organisations in the development of the standards” and the failure to reflect the feedback of some of the organisations who were consulted.

    On these bases, the organisations ask Sainsbury’s not to extend the proposals to other products until it has “published independent evidence of the impacts of your pilot including a clear analysis of the costs to all stakeholders” and encourages them “to urgently review and reconsider your plans.”

  • A piece in The Observer brought these issues to wider attention, highlighting some of the issues involved. This was one of a number of examples of negative press coverage: the Financial Times and industry publications (eg Sustainable Brands, The Grocer) also carried articles noting criticism of Sainsbury’s.
  • A major petition, with the support of many of the agencies involved in Fairtrade, has been set up on Change.org.

It’s hard to tell what impact the protests are having: Sainsbury’s has not officially announced any changes and has continued to permit its employees to make statements, occasionally of questionable accuracy, regarding the relationship between their model and Fairtrade.

What next? It feels important to continue protesting, and we would strongly urge those who care about Fairtrade to sign the online petition. If you are part of an institution (Fairtrade church, Fairtrade town, Fairtrade denominational body, etc) that supports Fairtrade and would like some template letters to Sainsbury’s, get in touch, and we’ll happily send some.  We’d also suggest continued prayer:

  • for the more than 200,000 Fairtrade tea farmers affected by Sainsbury’s move. This may well be an anxious time: pray that they may have a sense of security for the short and long term.
  • for wisdom for the leadership of the Fairtrade movement as it decides how to make the case for Fairtrade – and how to deal with the consequences of Sainsbury’s actions
  • for the leadership of Sainsbury’s as they consider ways forward: pray that they will be responsive to the concerns of producers and consumers
  • that this will be an occasion to galvanise new interest in Fairtrade, reminding seasoned Fairtrade campaigners and informing new audiences about the full range of benefits of Fairtrade and the reasons why it exists
  • in thanksgiving for the way Fairtrade makes connections among producers and consumers, and for the way it helps to redress inequalities. Pray that it may continue to do these things, and to do them well.

Coming Up: Sea Sunday

We’ll have a full item on it next week – but this is just a reminder that next Sunday is Sea Sunday, a time for remembering and raising up in prayer those who work at sea. You can find resources at:

Love of Creation, Mothering Sunday, Tuberculosis… : 24 March 2017

In this week’s email:

  • ‘For the Love of Creation’ powerpoint (sent as separate email yesterday)
  • Mothering Sunday
  • Tuberculosis
  • Yemen Humanitarian Crisis
  • Sanctification and Unity

Mothering Sunday

If you’re still looking for Mothering Sunday prayer resources, you might want to look at these:


Tuberculosis

“Isn’t it worrying that even today we don’t know the exact number of multidrug resistant TB cases in this country? Isn’t it scary that most MDR patients are misdiagnosed and treated incorrectly? What is worse is that most Indians cannot access the right diagnostics or drugs. Why are we letting a curable disease become so powerful?” –Deepti Chavan, a 32-year-old from Mumbai.

The 24th of March was World Tuberculosis Day. It’s a good reminder to pray for all suffering because of – and/or working to prevent and cure – this ‘voiceless’ disease, which despite its low profile is responsible, according to the WHO, for about 5,000 deaths a day.

Ending the global TB epidemic by 2030 is one of the targets of the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s not a simple task, though, and at present, despite diagnosis and treatment efforts that saved an estimated 49 million lives from 2000 to 2015, the incidence of infection is not falling rapidly enough to meet interim milestones.

Why is it hard to tackle TB? As with many diseases poverty often heightens the risk of being infected with tuberculosis, while reducing chances of accessing treatment – and doing things that can help build health, like eating well. Tackling TB therefore means not only ensuring transfers of medical knowledge and prioritising work on the medical aspects of TB, but also tackling broad socio-economic challenges, whether in  high-income, middle-income, or low-income countries. The difficulties are compounded by the emergence of multi-drug-resistant (MDR), extensively drug-resistant (XDR) and incurable tuberculosis, which are especially challenging to diagnose, as well as to treat or (in the case of incurable TB) to manage well.

The combination of issues facing people in poverty comes out clearly in an interview with one MDR TB patient who lives in a shack in a crowded township in South Africa, one of six middle-income countries which together account for 60% of global TB new incidences. She states:

I was expecting [to get TB] because … I was living with my grandma and my sister also who was having TB … I knew that one day I’ll have it … Now I’m getting the treatment. I feel fine in my body, but emotionally I can’t feel fine because there at clinic they said that you should eat this, you should eat that … and I can’t afford that, because I can’t work.”

A Lancet commission released to mark World Tuberculosis Day underlines the seriousness of MDR and XDR tuberculosis as global health risks – especially because MDR tuberculosis appears often to be transmitted (ie spread from person to person) rather than acquired as a result of failed treatment, as had been previously thought. The report stresses that to break the pattern of transmissions, the global community needs to

  • prioritise the development of new tools to diagnose and treat MDR and XDR tuberculosis. This involves increased funding: the article notes that “investment in tuberculosis research and development was US$674 million in 2014, which is a third of the $2 billion needed annually to eliminate tuberculosis, estimated by the Stop TB Partnership”
  • reduce the stigma associated with TB in order to increase people’s willingness to seek care
  • make access to fast, accurate diagnostic techniques available to all so that MDR tuberculosis can be detected early and treated before infectious patients spread it to others
  • offer all tuberculosis patients access to treatment protocols that are aligned with the latest science and appropriate for their particular case.
  • ensure that treatment is patient-centred, including not only medical treatment but counselling and treatment literacy, social and economic support and full respect of patients’ human rights, and
  • tackle the issues of poverty and overcrowding that provide an enabling environment for infection

“I’m feeling proud of myself now, because with this new treatment, it’s very good.”
“Even now I can … talk, I can do anything, everything in the house, and then I feel free.” 
Drug-resistant TB sufferers participating in a new trial

In a comment piece accompanying the Lancet Commission, other leading experts reflect on both the threats the article notes and some signs of encouragement – especially the appearance of a short oral treatment paradigm for both drug-sensitive and drug-resistant TB that seems to show high potential. They conclude:

“Ultimately, Dheda and colleagues are describing an epidemic that is at a crossroads. Every year, strains of drug-resistant tuberculosis will emerge that are more transmissible, more difficult to treat, and more widespread in the community. Yet we also have more tools at our disposal than ever before. And unlike for most other drug-resistant pathogens, we have evidence that, with a comprehensive response, drug-resistant tuberculosis epidemics can be rapidly reversed. Over the next decade, it is quite possible that we will see a drug-resistant tuberculosis epidemic of unprecedented global scale. But it is also possible that the next decade could witness an unprecedented reversal of the global drug-resistant tuberculosis burden. The difference between these two outcomes lies less with the pathogen and more with us as a global tuberculosis control community and whether we have the political will to prioritise a specific response to the disease. Drug-resistant tuberculosis is not standing still; neither can we.”

 

Photo Credit: Elizabeth Perry, from For the Love of Creation powerpoint.

 

Please pray:

  • for all people infected with or affected by tuberculosis. Pray that they will be healed medically and that they will be able to access the social and economic support they need to lead a good life.
  • in thanksgiving for work to develop new ways of diagnosing and treating TB, especially the breakthrough in genome sequencing announced this week
  • in thanksgiving for the efforts of family, carers and local health workers, often undertaken despite risks to their own safety. Pray for their safety and well-being
  • that both the global community and countries with high TB incidences will prioritise funding for diagnosing and treating TB
  • that better awareness of how the disease is contracted and treated, together with stronger community health systems, will help to end the stigma attached to TB and lead more people to seek early diagnosis and treatment
Further Reading:
If you want to read a little further on the issues: try a brief article by the lead author of the Lancet commission or the Reuters summary
If you want to go in depth: Lancet Podcast (7+ minutes) and Commission  (Listening to the podcast does not require free registration; the commission does) … or the WHO’s recent report on fighting TB in South-East Asia


Yemen Humanitarian Crisis

This Sunday the conflict in Yemen will enter its third year. It is hard to overstate its catastrophic nature for many of the country’s people. The direct casualties of conflict include more than 100 civilians killed last month and at least 4,773 killed and more than 8,700 (perhaps many more) injured over the course of the conflict. But the huge damage lies in the damage done to social and economic structures and hence to people’s ability to access work, food, shelter and healthcare. Millions of people are internally displaced; the economy has been shattered; health services are lacking; and health workers face obstruction (just this week MSF has decided to pull out of a hospital because of Houthi interference). Overall, the UN estimates that 21 million Yemenis, 82% of the country’s population, “are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.”

Of these, the World Food Programme estimates that about 7 million are severely food insecure – and it is the food crisis that is most worrying. The WFP has warned that two areas, which are home to about 25% of the country’s population, “risk slipping into famine.”  Focusing on the conflict’s youngest victims, Dr Meritxell Relaño, UNICEF Representative, stated: “We are seeing the highest levels of acute malnutrition in Yemen’s recent history. Of the 2.2 million children suffering from acute malnutrition, 462,000 are severely and acutely malnourished (SAM). To put things in perspective, a SAM child is ten times more at risk of death if not treated on time than a healthy child his or her age.”

The UN managed to reach 4.9 million people with food assistance in February, but because warring parties have restricted access and funding for the UN Yemen appeal is extremely low (according to Oxfam, the appeal is only 7% funded), they have not been able to do as much as they would like.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has called for:

  • all parties to the conflict, and those with influence, to work urgently towards a full ceasefire to bring this disastrous conflict to an end”
  • “[all parties] to facilitate rather than block the delivery of humanitarian assistance”
  • “an international, independent investigative body to look into the hundreds of reports of serious violations in Yemen” and an end to impunity for rights violations

Oxfam, which also works in Yemen, is:

  • “urging the United Nations Secretary General to pressure all parties to the conflict to resume peace talks, to reach a negotiated peace agreement and improve the economic situation in the country” and
  • “calling for all land, sea and air routes to Yemen to remain open and for attacks targeting military objects related to supply routes and infrastructure to not disproportionately affect civilians in accordance with International Humanitarian Law.”

It has also echoed the appeal for UN funding.

Please pray that:

  • civilians who are suffering from injury, hunger, ill health or displacement will be able to access what they need and will be given strength and a sense of peace amidst their difficulties
  • warring parties will lift barriers to humanitarian access so that essential aid can reach those who need it
  • the hearts of those who are making war will soften and be turned towards peace
  • all who are working for a ceasefire and, ultimately, a fair and just peace will be given wisdom, courage and stamina to keep going despite the difficulties
  • there will be an independent investigation of rights abuses
  • appeals will receive sufficient funding to enable the provision of adequate relief

 

Action Point: Could you donate to a charity that is assisting people in Yemen? These include CAFOD, Oxfam, Tearfund and the World Food Programme.


Sanctification and Unity

For meditation and prayer:

Jesus said: “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word… I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,  that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

John 17: 6, 15-26 (ESV-UK)

Neighbours at Work, Climate, Environmental Defenders, Yemen – 12 March 2016

In this week’s prayer email:

  • Short Notes: Climate, Environmental Defenders, Yemen
  • Loving God’s world: our neighbours at work

The need for good work is our focus this week – and it also figures in the week’s Revised Common Lectionary Gospel, which contains the parable of the Prodigal Son. The father’s forgiveness and generosity is manifested primarily in his treatment of his wayward child – but the young man’s musings also suggest that the older man maintains fair relationships with those who work for him: “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger!”

Pray that people in the UK and in other countries may have access to good work with fair remuneration and safe working conditions. And as International Women’s Day approaches, pray especially for increased justice for women in the working world.

Short Notes: Climate, Environmental Defenders, Yemen

  • There’s much that calls for prayer in recent developments around the climate – though also material for thanksgiving. Some commentators have focused on the spike in atmospheric temperatures for February, which soared 0.83 degrees centigrade over normal. While this isn’t the most reliable data, taken in tandem with the low extent of Arctic sea ice , concerns around the Greenland ice sheet, and four prior consecutive months of surface temperatures more than 1 degree over normal, it is a reminder of how urgent it is to take action to limit emissions.Please pray that all the warning signals we are experiencing will inspire governments, businesses and individuals to take action, especially action to speed up the drive for energy efficiency and less carbon-intensive energy generation. In particular:
    • Give thanks for the way that numerous EU governments pressed this week for the EU to up its emissions reduction targets in response to the Paris Agreement – and pray that such arguments are translated into action.
    • Give thanks, too, that China, which set energy consumption caps this week, is progressing more rapidly than expected in increasing energy efficiency – pray that this trend continues.
    • Pray for a meeting of the Canadian Prime Minister and US President this Thursday, from which news of further climate initiatives is anticipated.
    • And give thanks for the success in the UK of the Big Church Switch campaign, which is calling churches and individual Christians to change to renewable energy suppliers.
  • The assassination of Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres has drawn attention to the disturbing level of violence against people seeking to protect sensitive lands and waters and to ensure that indigenous peoples are properly consulted about projects that may affect their territory.  Global Witness states that killings of environmental defenders averaged slightly more than 2 a week in 2014.Berta Cáceres, recently the winner of a prestigious international environmental award, was protesting a series of hydropower dams for which there had not been appropriate consultation; three of her colleagues had already been murdered, and the government had not acted on international calls to offer her protection.Please:
    • Pray for all who mourn Cáceres.
    • Pray for the safety of her colleague Gustavo Castro, who was with her and was injured in the assassination, and for wisdom and safety for environmental and human rights defenders worldwide.
    • Pray for an end to the culture of impunity in Honduras and many other countries, which creates an atmosphere in which violence can flourish.
    • And pray that governments everywhere will have an understanding of and respect for creation and the rights of indigenous peoples.Action Point: There’s a Spanish-language petition asking for protection for Gustavo Castro here. If you’re comfortable with Spanish, might you sign?
  • The murder of 16 people, including 4 nuns and volunteers, at a nursing home run by the Missionaries of Charity in Aden, Yemen, has provoked shock and condemnation around the world. It is also a reminder of the wider continued toll on civilians of Yemen’s conflict: the UN has recently stated that more than 80% of the Yemeni population is in need of some form of protection or humanitarian assistance.In a statement to the Security Council last week,  the UN’s Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator said: “The most pressing concern today is the protection of civilians, millions of whom face relentless and often indiscriminate bombing and shelling of urban areas by the parties to the conflict every day … Protected places, such as hospitals, schools and homes continue to be hit by all parties … In the absence of a politically negotiated end to the conflict, the security situation across much of the country is rapidly deteriorating.”He called on the international community “to impress upon the parties to this conflict their obligations to take greater measures to protect civilians, to facilitate unconditional and sustained access to all parts of Yemen” and asked the Council “to press the parties to resume peace talks and agree to a cessation of hostilities.”

    The European Parliament recently called for an EU arms embargo on Saudi Arabia, which stands accused of targeting civilians in its air war against Houthi rebels.

    Please pray:

    • in thanksgiving for the courage and witness of those Christians who have continued to minister in that country despite the personal danger
    • for the safety of Fr. Tom Uzhunnalil, a Salesian priest from India, abducted during the attack, and for the superior of the Missionaries of Charity community, who escaped and is under police protection.
    • for all civilians suffering because of the conflict
    • that the international community will continue to press for protection, humanitarian access, and peace talks and will make progress in these areas with all parties to the conflict.

Loving God’s World: Our neighbours at work

What is good work?

This vital question underlies many of our current areas of concern. And this week, Fairtrade Fortnight and International Women’s Day (8 March) offer an interesting opportunity to reflect on it – and on some ways we can express love of God and neighbour in rediscovering the relationships at the heart of work.

In Christian teaching, work in its broadest sense is an integral part of much human life. Many point to the  creation accounts to show just how fundamental: man is put into the Garden of Eden “to work and to keep it,” and the early chapters of Genesis point to the fact that caring for creation and  ‘ruling’ over it as God’s stewards* are part of what makes human beings human.

Indeed, throughout the Old Testament, work is shown to be inherently relational at a number of levels.  Not only are the materials for work – whether physical resources or skills – gifts from God,  to whom we are responsible for our use of them. The law and the prophets also indicate that the right use of them – a use that provides good work –  involves provision for the needs of the self, family and community in a way that respects the humanity and interdependence of all within the community. Workers are to receive fair wages; all are to partake of the Sabbath rest; all are to be protected by the law; every fifty years the Jubilee is to restore all families’ access to the most fundamental resource – land; a certain percentage of the fruits of human labour are to be set aside to give thanks to God and to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves.

And yet, just as sin distorts all relationships, it distorts the relationships of work. The Old and New Testament show us a world in which, despite God’s commandments, people all too quickly prioritise not right relationship in work but the accumulation of power and goods. In place of the ideal, they are withholding workers’ wages, ignoring the Sabbath, pushing the land beyond its capacity, depriving those without power of their due rights, taking advantage of others’ misfortunes to aggregate assets, and hoarding what should be offered to God and others.

We recognise this world. We live in it. And we participate in its injustices, caught up in a system where the products of work are valued, but the people behind them often seem to be seen simply as units of production … and their needs – and the needs of the natural world – are what an economist might call an ‘externality’. And the potential for distorted relationships is amplified as  we become ever less likely personally to know the people who provide the goods and services we use. In particular, globalisation’s attenuated supply chains mean that we are unlikely ever to meet many of the people who grow the crops we eat, respond to the calls we place, or create the clothing and technology we use every day.

So how do we respond?

“Be careful,” the Church of Sweden once warned, “there are people in your shopping trolley.”

The slogan was on one of their posters supporting Fairtrade, and it got at the heart of the matter. Part of our calling as Christians is to refuse to allow ourselves to be focused simply on work’s products and the way they relate to our wants and needs, and instead to care as much as we can for the brothers and sisters whose labour provides them … as Dewi Hughes said, to recognise that our interaction with what people’s work produces makes them the ‘neighbours’ we are commanded to love.

Fair Trade

is one way of doing that. At its heart, Fair Trade is about restoring the human dimension to some of the most historically problematic working and trading relationships – those of small producers selling to often vastly more powerful marketers and retailers. Built into its standards – whether for Fairtrade products or Fair Trade organizations – is a commitment to paying a price for goods that relates to the costs of sustainable production, taking into account both people’s needs and the environment’s. But that’s not all: there’s also a commitment to prepayment so that producers don’t fall into debt, to the honouring of contracts and long-term partnerships, to ensuring safe working conditions and the right of people to organise and have input into their working conditions. There’s a ban on forced labour and a commitment to ending discrimination on the basis of gender. And there are environmental standards, which ensure that products don’t ‘cost the earth.’

When we buy a Fairtrade-labelled product, or any product from a Fair Trade Organization like Traidcraft or CafeDirect or Divine Chocolate, therefore, we’re signalling that we care enough about our neighbour to want to guarantee them ‘good work’.

That’s part of the success of Fair Trade. It’s not just about the roughly 5,000 Fairtrade products and £1.6 billion in Fairtrade retail sales in the UK … or the 1.65 million farmers, workers and producers who benefit from the international Fairtrade market and who last year received over 100 million Euros in Fairtrade premiums (in addition to the price they received for their goods).

It’s not just about the maternity clinics and mobile clinics and new forms of industry and wheelchairs for the elderly and computer classrooms and electrification schemes that Fairtrade has enabled producer groups to fund.

It’s also about the wider change in perceptions. Fair Trade’s growth has shaken conventional economics’ view that we are selfish beings who care only about our wants and price. It’s showed that where people have enough disposable income to have choices, love of neighbour can be a factor in the way we choose to allocate our spending.

Looking more broadly …

what are other ways in which we can look beyond the products of labour to the people involved and help to ensure their wellbeing?

  • The garment industry employs significant numbers of people globally, and there are major issues around safe working conditions, the right to organise, and decent wages. Labour behind the Label, War on Wantand Fashion Revolution  ask us to raise awareness of the people involved in the sector – and to press for better conditions and wages. Could you visit one of their websites and participate in their campaigns?
  • Traidcraft was one of several agencies that led campaigning to get an independent supermarket ‘watchdog’ to monitor major retailers’ treatment of suppliers. They continue to draw attention to the downward pressure supermarkets exert on suppliers, which has a major impact on the people at the bottom of the supply chain both in the UK and in other countries.Recent controversies in this area have focused on UK milk prices, with a parliamentary committee report on farmgate prices noting: “We question assurance from the retail sector that there is no link between the price at which supermarkets sell to their customers and the price supermarkets pay to farmers … the chronic low price of milk sold through supermarkets inevitably disadvantages farmers in the longer term. Supermarkets may choose to sell milk cheaply as a loss leader, but farmers must not be the victims of the supermarket wars currently taking place in the UK. Progress is uneven amongst supermarkets and assurances must be met with action.”Could you check with your supermarket to find out what price they give farmers for milk? Might you support retailers (or special schemes, such as Morrison’s Milk for Farmers) that seek to give a higher amount to farmers?
  • The Living Wage campaign certifies employers who choose to pay their staff a wage that is calculated according to the basic cost of living in the UK. On their website, you can check to see who is a living wage employer. If an entity with which you regularly interact isn’t one, could you encourage them to become one? If you have a pension, ShareAction has an easy way for you to ask your pension fund to press the companies in which it invests on this topic. You might also want to hold an event to raise awareness of the concept.
  • The right of workers to organise and bargain collectively is enshrined in an international convention which the UK and European countries have all ratified. But not all countries have ratified the convention, and there are many where despite the ratification, those who lead protests against poor working conditions face significant harrassment and threats. The International TUC named ten countries as the world’s worst for systematic violations of workers’ rights: one of these was Colombia. Could you join in Justice for Colombia’s campaign action on behalf of a ‘disappeared’ trade unionist?
  • Two groups which are often subject to injustice in the UK are immigrant domestic workers and care workers. Could you ask members of the House of Lords to support Lord Hylton’s amendments to the Immigration Bill, which are designed to keep immigrant domestic workers from being tied to abusive employers?
  • Support people who are seeking to create good jobs, especially for the most marginalised. Perhaps this is something you can do in your work. Charities are also beginning to work with the private sector: a new initiative from Christian Aid, Traidcraft, Practical Action, Twin and Challenges Worldwide links investors with small and medium enterprises in rural areas that have the potential to grow.

*Many environmental theologians emphasise that the term ‘rule’ or ‘dominion’ would have expressed stewardship  and a duty of care as well as power.