Spending Influence

A friend of mine posted a link to the following article on her Facebook page:

Made in America Christmas: Are You In?

The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion, the National Retail Federation estimates. If that money was spent entirely on US made products it would create 4.6 million jobs. But it doesn’t even have to be that big. If each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs.

Interestingly, this campaign comes on the heels of a presentation we had at church a couple of weeks ago. Nathan George is the founder of “Trade As One,” a church-based fair trade ministry. To get an idea of what he’s all about, consider this statement from the Trade As One website:

Fair trade allows you to use your spending power to make the world a better place. Whether it’s a unique gift or an everyday product like fair trade coffee or chocolate, your spending can connect you to a story of hope and dignity for the poor.

It’s hard to miss the connection. How we shop, where we spend our dollars, impacts others. And, as in all aspects of life, God has an opinion. Consider verses such as James 5:1-6. We don’t like to think that such verses apply to us. But do they?

George talked about the church’s “pathological separation” between what we say we believe, and what we do. We say we believe in justice. We say that all we have belongs to God. But all too often, our identity as consumers trumps our identity as Christ-bearers.

Buying American will help create jobs here in our own country. We certainly need that. According to a recent AP article on CBSnews.com, census data indicates that “a record number of Americans — nearly 1 in 2 — have fallen into poverty or are scraping by on earnings that classify them as low income.” The problem is two-fold—rising costs and under- or unemployment.

On the other hand, what counts as poverty here would be considered unimaginable riches by much of the world’s poor. Here in the U.S., “low income” means a family of four earns $45,000 per year or less. The U.S. Census Bureau found that “46% of those defined as being in poverty in the U.S. own their own home (with the average poor person’s home having three bedrooms, with one and a half baths, and a garage).

Compare that to the World Bank’s definition. People living in moderate poverty earn less than $2 per day, while people in extreme poverty live on about half that. “It has been estimated that in 2008, 1.4 billion people had consumption levels below US$1.25 a day and 2.7 billion lived on less than $2 a day.

Buying fair trade goods from overseas can make a huge difference for the workers producing those goods. Instead of being virtual slaves of multi-national corporations aiming for the highest profits, these workers are paid a living wage, and often have a voice in how the company is run. For example, the chocolate growers themselves own 48% of Divine chocolates, and are represented at shareholder meetings in the U.K.

What can we do? Look for the fair trade label on imported goods. Order from fair trade websites. Think before you buy.

Fair trade merchandise often (not always!) costs a bit more. That’s because the workers are being paid a fair price for their labor. While we don’t have a lot of discretionary income, I made a decision that I’ll eat less chocolate, or drink less tea, or have more room in my closet, rather than support injustice and exploitation.

Whether we spend $64 on American-made goods, or $25 on a scarf made by a trafficked woman rescued from the sex trade, we are putting our money where it matters. And where our treasure is, there our heart will be also.

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One thought on “Spending Influence

  1. I went to a Trade As One “gift fair” a few weeks ago. It wasn’t in my budget at the time to get some nice, soft arm/wrist warmers (to keep most of my hands warm while working in a chilly office), but I did add them to my Christmas wish list. And I bought some of the Divine Chocolate, which is pretty good!

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