Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fair Trade

I talked today with Pastor Rory after he returned from India.  He was telling me some fascinating stories about the experiences with poverty he had while visiting a ghetto there.  He talked aabout seeing a sweat shop where workers used modern equipment to make brand name merchandise, except the brand was not applied in the sweat shop, it was applied later so that no one would have to claim they knew it was coming from a sweat shop.

All of this got me thinking about what kind of clothes I buy, when I buy clothes, which is really not that often.  I started doing some research on Fair Trade clothes to see what that would look like.  I found several sites that talked about their clothing coming from union run places, usually in Canada or the US.  On the one hand that seems like a great idea, buy more locally, buy clothes that are made at a reasonable wage level, and do my part to help create a more sustainable economy.

There seems to be a secondary question though.  While on the one hand deplorable buying clothes from sweat shops does have the advantage of providing these people with some sort of income, some sort of job.  Is the community better for having that income lost? Wouldn't there be risk of hurting the economy of India, especially those most impoverished by removing those jobs, even at their poor wage levels from the economy.  I remember reading that Gandhi, when he started a strike on British made clothes in India in favor of locally made products sent money to workers in England who were out of work because India was no longer shipping cotton there for work.  He did not want the effort towards financial independence and workers in India to be won at the expense of workers in England.

I love the idea of buying local, of building up local ecnomies, but I also am aware that we are part of a global a community and our buying decisions have an impact on people everywhere.  Sadly my 9th grade level understanding of economics does not make it easy to parse out the best way to help everyone.  In the end I think we just need to be deliberate, to try and do our best for everyone, and to know that we are going to make mistakes, but to do so hoping to helping everyone, not just ourselves.  At least that is what I think right now.