Fair Trade — Protecting Human Rights

by Fr. Shay Cullen

DUBLIN, (Ireland) — Juanito Hacinto is a poor man in Bataan, Philippines. He is a member of the Aeta indigenous people. He sat with his wife Nita, and their three children under a mango tree to hear our message that the Preda Fair Trade organisation, Profairtrade, will pay 100% higher for their mango fruit so that they could have a better life. The Preda project is turning mango fruit to Preda Fair Trade dried mangos. Sales are boosted by growing demand and so it is expanding to help more indigenous hill farmers. The not-for profit project is using earning to bring practical economic help and justice to their villages, social benefits and development too. Sales of the mangos go to help exploited and abused women and children also.

Juanito and Nita were happy to hear this as they only get a pittance for their mangos from commercial traders and the price is so low it is not worth even harvesting and carrying them over the mountain to sell. There is no road and not even a viable school in their remote village. Preda Fair Trade dried mangos will help empower them to get the school operating and teaching the children. A child with a cleft lip was found and brought for a surgical operation. After speech therapy she will learn to smile and talk normally for the first time in her life.

Fair Trade fortnight is a time when we ought to think how we live and consume products. Do the faith based values we hold dear apply to what we buy and consume. When we buy products do we ask the supermarket manager where it’s from and is just and fair? Faith without action for doing good, like bringing about social justice, is useless, St. James says.

This past week I had an interesting meeting with the Minister of Trade and Development, Joe Costello, in Dublin, Ireland about the Preda Fair Trade project and human rights advocacy and discussed how it helps deliver many services to the small farmers. The presentation showed how people are trafficked and exploited especially children in the Philippines and together we are helping to deliver the shared programme of strengthening respect for human rights everywhere.

The Preda human rights advocacy and practical action for victims of human rights abuses is supported by Irish Aid under Minister Costello’s office. Preda human rights advocacy is a work that goes beyond the Philippines to an international audience through networks of civil society and to various government entities in the EU countries. Defending human rights spurring economic development that brings about a more just society and earns respect in the emerging markets.

That is the same message that I shared with the members of the German parliamentary committee for Economic Cooperation and Development and the committee for foreign aid. The members mostly women, are very concerned about respect for human rights in the countries where they give aid and want to end the exploitation of women and children above all. I made a presentation to the committee last May 9, on this very theme and received their support to continue the advocacy and campaign to end sex slavery of women and children. Last August 2011 they sent a delegation to the Philippines and joined the work of Preda for a day to rescue a 15 year old child from cruel detention.

Fair Trade is all about protecting human rights in the work place paying just and fair prices and providing good working conditions for workers who produce the products that we buy, consume and use. Economic exploitation is common in the world and we have to act to end it as much as possible. Its hard for customers to know what is a product made in just and unjust fair condition. Our task is to help make them aware of the fairly traded products. That’s what Fair Trade Fortnight is about.

Some people wrongly think they are helpless to help exploited workers. The consumer has power. Power to be more fully human and exercise their most powerful ability, free choice. We can choose to do good and buy fair products. We all have the power to protest and the duty to speak out when we see unfairness and exploitation. That is our sacred obligation – to speak out against evil, do good and buy fairly traded products. That’s the way to go.

Fr. Shay Cullen is President/CEO of Preda Foundation, Inc., a Philippine human rights social development organization working for 34 years through fair trade practices to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in society and overcome injustice and poverty.  There are 88 professional Filipino staff implementing the 12 projects of Preda (see www.preda.org).

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