Today after church there was a sale in the church basement — handcrafts, religious items, coffee, and chocolate. We bought two chocolate bars, a bracelet, and a Christmas tree ornament, because the quality/cost tradeoff was good. But now I am sorry we did.
This is the organization that was running the sale:
Their website is full of horrors (well not really horrors, but things which set my teeth on edge). It’s not just the use of the words “fair” and “justice” all over the place in a morally bullying way, or the incredibly high concentration of what RV calls “wooden language”. There’s also the political advocacy for the DREAM Act and the encouragement of congress to take advantage of the lame-duck session to pass it while they can (unfortunately some of the bishops also support this legislation, though others don’t). I am going to complain to my pastor and my bishop about this.
As for “fair trade” — I have no problem at all with a church-affiliated organization encouraging private charity to impoverished campesinos by participating in a program to buy goods they helped produce at “fair” prices which kick back more profits to those peasants than the market would otherwise give them, especially since they are actually members of my church. But there are TWO BIG RED FLAGS here (regarding “fair trade” movements in general, in addition to the specific political problems I have with this particular organization as detailed above).
Red Flag 1: There is NO accounting of how the money flows back. If I am paying 25 cents extra for a chocolate bar because 20 cents of that will get back to the villagers who picked the cacao beans and 5 cents will cover the expenses of the whole program, fine. But if the villagers are getting 5 cents and the clever activists who thought this all up are pocketing 20 cents, no way Jose.
Red Flag 2: The appeal itself should distinguish between economic value and moral value and explicitly state that a charitable contribution is being solicited. Instead, it is cast in pseudo-moral language that suggests that low wages themselves are an injustice in the strong sense that participating in the ordinary free market and buying the lower-price chocolate for which the cacao-pickers get less of a cut is morally reprehensible, or at least morally inferior. Charity is finite — no charitable appeal has the right to imply that if you don’t give to THEIR charity specifically you are failing in your moral obligation to be charitable, because there are thousands of competing charities to which I might give my money.
As for whether there is a moral obligation to be charitable — as a Christian, I accept that, but it is a private matter where and how much I give to charity, and I will only give to causes I consider worthy. I give money to my parish every week, because I appreciate what they do in general, but I’m definitely going to have a talk with my pastor about the sale today.