Working with victims of human trafficking forever changed me. The immeasurable suffering of so many of our brothers and sisters broke my heart and it does still each time I think of them. It is unfathomable that human beings are seen as objects and then, are abused, exploited, bought, and sold.
We as Catholics know this is wrong. We know that each human person is created in the image and likeness of God and willed into being by Him. Pope Francis once said, “Things have a price and can be for sale. But people have dignity that is priceless and worth far more than things.”
So, does it matter what “things” we buy? Can our consumerism be directed for the betterment of others?
Let us look again to Pope Francis. In a speech delivered on January 1, 2015, Pope Francis called us all to honor God with our purchases, highlighting the fact that people are at the heart of every product we buy. His speech also brought awareness to the issue of human trafficking in the marketplace. Our pope encouraged us to “practice acts of fraternity towards those kept in a state of enslavement” and not to give in to the temptation to purchase items that may have been produced by exploiting others. He invited us to be socially responsible consumers, stating that “every person ought to have the awareness that purchasing is always a moral – and not simply an economic – act.” What we purchase, and who we purchase from, is important and linked to our faith.
The sad reality is that the exploitation of others may be involved in the production of everyday products such as coffee, tea, chocolate, jewelry, clothing, etc. In addition to trafficking, poor working conditions, unfair wages, child labor, and production methods that harm the environment, are common business practices. Yet, praise God, there are simple ways we can all help. One way is by supporting ethical trade!
Catholic Relief Services (CRS) defines ethical trade as “a transparent commitment by a company to treat its workers and suppliers fairly, care for the environment, and invest in the community.” There are many ethical companies that one can purchase from, including ones that partner with CRS. These companies go a step further and ensure that they are not involved in any practices that conflict with Catholic social and moral teaching.
So, what do we do with this information?
Do what the students at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish School in Grove City, Ohio did – take action! In the 2015-2016 school year, Denise Johns, guidance counselor for the school, introduced me to a group of students called Legacy Leaders. This group of students eagerly learned about ethical trade and immediately wanted to do something to educate others and promote justice. They made ethical trade their social justice theme for the school year, enthusiastically taking on many substantial projects including the following: holding an assembly for the student body explaining ethical trade in a child-appropriate manner, selling ethically traded products at a school craft fair, ensuring all teachers in the school had curriculums addressing ethical trade, and facilitated school-wide participation in Catholic Relief Service’s Rice Bowl Lenten Program.
Let us all be like the students of OLPH, raising awareness and using the power of their purchases to transform lives.
Here are some ways that Catholic Relief Services suggests we do this:
- Buy only what you need;
- Shop ethical companies;
- Create community with ethical trade via a consignment sale, community order, coffee sale or CRS Fundraiser.
Stephanie Rapp is the Director of Marriage & Family Life for the Diocese of Columbus and a Fair-Trade Ambassador with Catholic Relief Services.