Christmas shopping with a conscience

Buy local or fair trade?

Christians who want to make a difference as they Christmas shop may feel tension between buying local, buying fair trade, or buying at all.

According to the International Fair Trade Association, “fair trade is a strategy for poverty alleviation and sustainable development.” Fair traders pay producers equitably and ensure safe working conditions as well as sound environmental practices.

Buying locally – purchasing goods made regionally or in Canada – can enhance the local economy and support Canadian labourers. Locally raised and produced food is “better tasting, better for the environment, better for local economies, and better for your health,” urge “buy local” proponents and The 100 Mile Diet authors Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.

What’s a person of faith to do?

Julia Nicolaisen shopping with her mom, Marci, who likes to purchase gifts at  Ten Thousand Villages because she knows it helps someone else.

The Bible tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), and that upon completion, God pronounced his creation “very good.” Out of respect for God the Creator, we are to take care of his creation, just as God commanded Adam.

Biblical instructions to care for people who are poor are even clearer. “Loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke,” reads Isaiah 58:6, and “share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter,” in verse 7.

How do we balance being good stewards of God’s creation with a desire to alleviate global poverty and make the people on our Christmas list happy? Here are three suggestions from World Vision, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), and Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA).

For the person who has everything

It’s becoming increasingly popular to purchase items from a charity gift catalogue that go to people in need on behalf of family and friends. Giving a total of $18 million, 90,566 Canadians purchased 256,625 items from the World Vision Gift Catalogue in 2007.

“Each of our featured gifts is part of a larger World Vision development program that helps entire communities overcome poverty and achieve self-reliance,” says Jessica Parker, manager of supporter engagement and public relations with World Vision Canada. Whenever possible, livestock and other items in the catalogue are purchased in the communities where they will be used, enhancing local economies.

Giving gifts from charity gift catalogues is environmentally responsible (gifts don’t need to shipped or wrapped) and helps alleviate poverty. If you give to a Canadian-based charity, it also supports the Canadian economy.

When you need something under the tree

When you need to purchase a gift that can be unwrapped on Christmas morning, there are fair trade options that improve the lives of people in poverty and are environmentally responsible.

Producers of the goods sold at the 49 Ten Thousand Villages stores (affiliated with MCC) across Canada receive a fair wage – on average, 22 percent of the selling price as compared to one to three percent of the selling price on conventionally traded goods.

Purchasing fair trade goods can also have a positive environmental impact in producer countries, says Ingrid Heinrichs Pauls, education and media coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, citing shea trees in Burkina Faso. Locals cut down the trees to earn money by selling the wood – contributing to deforestation. When Ten Thousand Villages began purchasing shea butter, produced from the pit of shea fruit, the trees became too valuable to cut down.

The global impact of shopping locally

People in developed countries are increasingly “putting our money where our values are,” says Gerhard Pries, chief financial officer with MEDA, showing a willingness to pay more for goods that are organic, environmentally responsible, or fairly traded.

This trend is good, says Pries but we need to carefully consider the consequences of our value-driven spending choices, cautioning against buying locally to the exclusion of purchasing food and goods from other nations. Growth and transportation of food employs many millions of poor people around the world. According to Pries, many crops, due to climate and labour practices, can actually be produced in a more environmentally responsible way and more efficiently in developing countries than in Canada.

This Christmas, as we consider what values are most important to us, let’s be encouraged that our purchasing choices can help bring about the kind of world that honours God.

Sandra Reimer

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