Reflections on Fair Trade and Immigration

How do your fellow parishioners react when you propose fairly traded coffee for sale or fellowship hour? Do you get a yawn, or a pat on the back, but not much support? Do you quote Matthew 25, Luke 10 or Laudato Si’ to no avail?

In his book on church organizing, Activism That Makes Sense, Gregory Pierce points out a reason for apparent apathy: many people—including many Catholics—tend to feel that if an issue does not directly affect their self-interest they should leave it to people who are directly affected.

To reach those people, you need to drop the charity argument and point out that the well-being of others, especially in countries close to ours, affects us directly and immediately.

The countries of  Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador for example, are currently experiencing gang violence, high unemployment, unbalanced distribution of wealth and inadequate infrastructure. Their societies cannot provide all the jobs they need or safety for all their people. Migrants searching for jobs and safety travel to where these are available, the United States, so they can support their families back home.

In the last few years hundreds of thousands of people have travelled from Central America to the United States. Many Americans fear that these immigrants will compete for jobs in a bewilderingly changing economy. We have been told that migrants are “bringing drugs” and “bringing crime” and that we need a two thousand mile long wall to keep them out.

They’re not bringing drugs and crime, they’re fleeing drugs and crime. Spending billions of dollars building a wall on the U.S. Mexico border is like ordering the ocean tides to stop rising. It would be far more effective to help mitigate the conditions which force people to migrate.

Equal Exchange and other alternative trade organizations collaborate with small farmers who have pooled their resources in cooperatives. We offer long-term relationships, stable, above-market prices, affordable credit and collaboration in sustainable development.

In buying fairly traded coffee you are acting in your own self-interest, collaborating with the people of Central America to build safe, stable, prosperous societies on our borders, to trade with us on a more equal footing and who have the means to do what most of them want to do in the first place, stay home with their families.

About The Author

Peter Buck

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