The mitzvah of Fairtrade

By Jonathan Wittenberg, February 26, 2009
A Fairtrade kippah

A Fairtrade kippah

A Jewish Guide To Fairtrade
The Fairtrade Foundation

I’ve long been grateful that Fairtrade exists. It makes me feel less like a thief when I go shopping. I’m doubly appreciative now, with the publication of this Jewish Guide, which relates the principles of fair trade to Jewish ethics, rooting them in textual sources and listing kosher Fairtrade foods.

I’ve often wondered what we would put in our shopping trolleys if, the moment we touched an item in the supermarket, we could see a film portraying the conditions in which it was produced, who toiled to grow it and at what environmental cost it was transported to the shelf.

Fairtrade was created to address such issues. The movement grew in Europe in the 60s with slogans like “Trade not Aid”, (Maimonides’s first principle of charity in a sound-bite). In 1997 Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International was formed, leading to the familiar Fairtrade logo. FLO monitors standards and sets the key messages: a just price for farmers, sustainable farming methods and a Fairtrade premium which local participants decide how to use — whether for improving schools, ensuring clean water or developing farming methods.

This booklet skilfully links Fairtrade principles to Jewish sources from the Bible to Maimonides. Verses like “You shall not abuse a needy or destitute labourer” become an immediate challenge, addressing key moral issues around consumer culture. An excellent tool for study, it also provides wide-ranging resources, including books, web addresses, recipes and ideas for games. It tells us how to become Fairtrade homes, shuls, schools and youth movements. Remarkably, the publication carries the logos of all the synagogue movements.

The booklet considers dilemmas which have long made Jewish ethical shoppers pause: do I buy local, Israeli or Fairtrade? (There’s no major overlap, it suggests.) It lists kosher Fairtrade products, enough to make not only morning tea or coffee, but the fruit bowl, spice rack and gifts of chocolates, inter alia, moral decisions. There are Fairtrade clothes (including kippot, see picture) and even footballs; the black, blue and yellow logo should soon be seen on the T- shirts of Jewish summer camps.

The art of Judaism has always been to turn comprehensive values into everyday actions through the daily mitzvot which govern how we eat, greet and treat each other. If this is the case, buying Fairtrade is not just another consumer choice; it is a mitzvah.

Jonathan Wittenberg is Masorti senior rabbi

    Last updated: 6:14pm, April 1 2009