Fairer trade is about basic human dignity

By Shay Cullen
22 Jul 2010

In June 2009, I travelled widely in Mindanao. I went first across parts of Northern Mindanao to Gingoog City in a space of three hours and passed about 20 giant trucks stacked high with logs destined for plywood mills or ships for export.

It was shocking to see the forests being cut and shipped away. The rivers I passed by were totally dried up. The land was shrivelling: without trees there is no water, the sustenance of the land. No wonder there are so many hungry and malnourished women and children and high rates of child deaths.

Driving from Cagayan De Oro to Davao City in the south to visit Preda projects (www.preda.org), I was amazed to see the rain forests had almost disappeared, the last remnants clinging to the tops of the mountains. A beautiful country ravaged, exploited and left bare.

The land is life, it is our source of food and nourishment and that of every living creature on this planet and yet we humans, the species with the brains, with intelligence, the species that has come to dominate the earth, are in the process of destroying it, or standing by while it happens.

None of us wants to be part of this, no one wants this to happen and for sure, most of us are striving to prevent it with heart and mind. But the irresponsible loggers, tycoons and money moguls don't care. They lead in global greed.

Working to make this a more just world through Fairtrade projects and practices, empowering small farmers and changing unjust practices and systems is at the heart of Fairtrade.

Lobbying for new laws to protect the environment, promoting organic farming, and helping the victims of abuse and exploitation has been the work of Preda Fairtrade for the past 36 years in the Philippines. Besides helping small farmers and their farm workers, it encourages people to take more local action to combat climate change, destructive mining practices and environmental destruction.

It is encouraging to know that so many good people, unsung heroes, are working to inspire good and decent business people to practice corporate responsibility and are challenging corporations to do good and stop the damage being done to the people, their culture and the environment.

Mining corporations are frequently the villains damaging the community. The government and business ought to protect the environment, not allow its destruction. They ought to be helping the poor, and sharing the wealth of the Philippines with the needy and never with the greedy. They ought to adopt the criteria of Fair Trade.

To bring about social justice they must pay fair wages, give good healthy working conditions and benefits, end the price-fixing cartels, and give small farmers access to markets. The NGOs, agents of change, need to work together for this change to come about. It is by sharing our knowledge and experience, insights and understanding, faith, and love of neighbour that we can empower each other, and make this a safe and happier country in solidarity with our international supporters.

Fairtrade is for us more than buying and selling products at fair prices. It is much more. It is working for the enhancement of human dignity, protecting vulnerable and exploited people. Nothing dehumanises people as much as abject poverty and hunger.

Because of unjust trade, greed, selfishness and irresponsible government, war and climate change, there are 1.02 billion people world wide who are hungry and malnourished. (UN Food and Agriculture Organisation), that is an additional 146 million hungry, impoverished people since 2008.

This is what we have to change, the injustice where a billion, mostly children, go to bed hungry and sick, in a rich and wealthy world.

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(c) Shay Cullen is a Columban priest and director of the human rights centre PREDA, which is best know for its campaign work and investigations into syndicates and paedophile rings, its rescue and rehabilitation of children, and for bringing successful prosecutions against Filipino and foreign offenders. Visit www.preda.org for more related articles. Shay Cullen's columns are published in The Manila Times and in publications in Ireland, the United Kingdom and Hong Kong.

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