First, a story: A few days ago, I was sitting in the crowded Teaching Assistant office when one of the professors from the department came through asking what teas we would prefer for the departmental teas that happen each Friday. After telling her "Earl Grey," and thinking for a moment, I politely requested, "And if you could, could you look for some fair trade?" She duly noted it on her paper, and time will tell whether or not fair trade tea will make headway into the English Department teas.
My desk mate looked at me with a smile on her face, and said in that sweet Southern accent of hers: "Oh Dianna. You and your social justice." Now, knowing her, these were actually words of praise - I understood it to mean that it was kind of cool (albeit weird, but cool) that I had spoken up. She correctly identified, by her comment, however, that I am one of the few in the department who would bother to care about such a thing. The implicit question there being, "Why are you bringing this 'social justice' thing into the small parts like our departmental tea?"
As I have stated time and again here on this blog and otherwise, it is those little things that make a difference. Making a commitment to support fair trade in even the little things that you drink - like coffee and tea - can make a large difference in someone's life. That is one farmer who is paid a fair wage for the tea leaves he's producing, one more reassurance that the product in your hands wasn't made by hands much smaller than your own, one more step in the fight to end the modern day slave trade.
Jesus tells us outright in Luke 16:10-13: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?" Essentially, the message here is to be careful how we spend. Though the English department tea is not something I have control over spending for, I can at the very least request that non-fair trade practices are not implicitly supported by asking for a more explicit support of fair trade.
In American culture particularly (though it is very similar in most of the Western world), we have a cavalier attitude toward consumerism: as long as I can get this or that cheaply without much effort on my part, I will do so. It is time that this practice is stopped. By being those people in the office who are examples to others by requesting fair trade coffee or tea for the office pot, by showing large corporations that we refuse to shop there if they are connected with the slave trade, by simply talking to others about the product chain and where the shoes on our feet and the clothes on our back come from, we can begin a change.
We can demand transparency - we just need to make people aware of why transparency in the marketplace is needed in the first place.
Get informed. Get involved.