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The High Cost of Cheap

I love a bargain. Whether I'm buying clothing, groceries, or other supplies, I enjoy knowing I got a deal. I can even dress it up in spiritual clothes, claiming I'm being a "good steward" of my resources by being thrifty.

Unfortunately, cheap sometimes has a hidden price tag. The prices of certain goods—from soccer balls to candy bars—are low because the people who produce them are paid little or nothing for their labor. The laborers in sweatshops and harvesters on plantations pay a dear price so that we can have, by our own admission, too much food and too much stuff.

I love bargains, but I also want to live a compassionate life—and lead others to do the same. To do so, I must look beyond the price tag on an item to its hidden price.

More people are trapped in slavery today than at the height of the slave trade of the 1800s. Most are virtually invisible. Many are children. The Bible is very clear: if I am saving money by exploiting the poor (which I am doing if I buy products made with slave labor), that is exactly the opposite of good stewardship.

For example, most of the world's chocolate is made on plantations in Africa, especially the Ivory Coast, where there are more than 100,000 child slaves working on cocoa plantations. The cocoa beans are harvested by hand, usually by young children—children who have never even tasted chocolate. These children are denied an education, and sometimes beaten or not fed if they do not meet their harvest quotas. Many are lured with the promise a paying job, but they end up enslaved. Their lives are the price of cheap chocolate. (Learn more at www.slavefreechocolate.org .)

We might throw up our hands at the injustice, but think there is nothing we can do, or that the problem is too huge. Such thinking is truly ignoring the plight of the poor, trading our comfort for theirs.

Centuries ago, God told his people: "For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath. They sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed."

Does God still care about how our way of life, our insatiable use of resources, denies justice to the oppressed? Of course he does. He cares about the high cost of cheap.

The Bible says, "Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right." Do our buying patterns maintain justice, or do they perpetuate injustice (even if we are unaware of it)?

There is a human cost to cheap chocolate. And the question is, are we willing to support child slavery in order to have the privilege of inexpensive candy?

There is a great alternative, though. Fair Trade certified products, including chocolate, are produced via a system that pays workers fairly, cuts out middlemen, and protects the environment.

Buying Fair Trade chocolate ensures decent living wages for workers, and that children will not be exploited. That they will get an education, rather than being forced to work in the fields. While it is a bit more expensive than other chocolate, the price reflects the fact that a living wage is paid to the workers who harvest it. It's also a higher quality product.

There are a number of great websites that sell Fair Trade chocolate, coffee, clothing, jewelry and more—such as www.serrv.org or www.globalexchange.org. They have a special program going for Halloween where you can handout out Fair Trade chocolate through "reverse trick-or-treating."

I've also found Fair Trade food at places like Whole Foods and Target. Ask for it where you shop. Let stores know that you will buy Fair Trade if they stock it. And contact candy companies to let them know you object to their business practices.

Halloween and Christmas are coming—times when we buy candy and gifts. Why not lead a ministry of giving Fair Trade chocolate to trick-or-treaters, or put Fair Trade trinkets in Christmas stockings?

In Isaiah 58:6, God tells his people: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?"

You can either loosen the chains of injustice, or pull them tighter by simply ignoring the situation.

October23, 2009 at 4:19 PM

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