Monday, May 16, 2016

Fair Trade Shabbat - Parshat Kedoshim: Expanding Mitzvot in the Supply Chain

Kippah Crocheter Angelica Marta works 
with MayanHands, supporting herself and 
her family. Photo: Dina Tanners
Kedoshim: A Favorite Pick-and-Choose Parshah
May 14, 2016 - Betsy Teutsch

This shabbat is designated Fair Trade Shabbat, coinciding with World Fair Trade Day. Some of you know I am on the Fair Trade Judaica Advisory Board, so I was eager to take on linking today's Parshah, Kedoshim, with Fair Trade Principles. And of course I provided slave-free Equal Exchange Kosher Fair Trade Chocolate to amplify my teaching. [IF you're reading this rather than hearing it in person... go shopping!]

Kedoshim, Leviticus 19:1-20:27) is about an elusive topic, holiness. We sense holiness, but it is hard to define. Social justice advocates love this parshah because of its justice-promoting chestnuts, but there are also opaque and baffling instructions, as well as some we moderns find offensive.

First, some easy ones:

  • Peah – Leave the corners of your field for the poor. There is no upward limit. You could harvest a chevron shape, where the corners are the same size as the field, making it 50/50
  • No gathering of fallen fruits, they are for the poor and the stranger
  • No defrauding
  • No withholding of wages.
  • You shall rise before the aged and show deference to the old
  • No falsifying of weights
  • You shall not wrong a stranger that resides in your land
Some less obvious paths to holiness:

  • You shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed (though it does not forbid companion-planting, where one pairs two different kinds of plants, a beneficial practice , a standard in permaculture and sustainable agriculture)
  • You shall not mix two kinds of cloth (shatnez)
  • You shall not destroy the sidegrowth of your beard
And then the ones that are 180 from where we are today: inappropriate prohibitions, such as the one against male-male unions. In our world they are not only legal, but a celebrated source of holiness for those in loving unions, in many Jewish communities.

The text does not define holiness; we are to be holy, set apart, for God.

I would submit that holiness is , l’havdil, like pornography. You know it when you see it. You feel it.

Clearly achieving this holiness requires a lot of every day, ordinary attention to behavior in the material world. It is woven into our interactions with others. If we were to make up a list of ways to achieve holiness as we live our daily lives, some of these Levitical principles would likely make our list; others would disappear.

Here we are 2500 years later in a complex globalized world of 7 billion people. We can’t leave the corners of our fields for the poor, since we mostly don’t raise our own food, and the world's poorest people, many of whom do raise our food, concentrate in the Global South.

The Fair Trade movement seeks to utilize our everyday market transactions to help the poor improve their lives, according them dignity and ensuring they can meet their basic needs. The opposite? Said Zach Teutsch, when I first described fair trade coffee a decade or so ago, must be unfair trade.

Initially the movement has been known for coffee production,  Fair Trade products include many others kinds of consumable food, flowers, clothing, housewares, crafts, and even Judaica like Fair Trade Judaica's Bar/Bat Mitzvah Collection, kippot and tallitot.

There are ten basic principles of Fair Trade. They expand the holiness in our daily consumption – creating more kedushah and allow us to help people help themselves out of extreme deprivation, Rambam's highest level of tsedakah. Here are a few examples:

Transparency throughout the supply chain. It is easy to take advantage of people who are unaware of the retail value of their products. Asymmetrical information is a form of exploitation, the opposite of fair.

No child labor. This is not prohibited by Torah, it was the pre-industrial norm. It is illegal, now, but not uncommon. Likewise no slave labor. Fair Trade certification is an extension of kashrut supervision, which applies to food.

Safe work conditions, setting forth goals which co-ops can work to attain. Cheap clothes et al are produced in factories that cut every possible corner. (Contrast that with leaving the corners open for the needy….)

FT guarantees equal rights regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, HIV status. This is a much higher standard than Torah or secular law.

Environmental standards are integrated into FT, unlike the conventional food supply chain where workers, the land and water and ultimate consumers are exposed to pesticides. This too is a higher standard, and missing from conventional kashrut supervision.

Q) How might we integrate Fair Trade standards, a sort of “consumption kashrut”, into our personal and household lives? Does having worker justice, environmental protection, and gender equity guarantees feel like holiness? Is this a spiritual practice, or just a form of consumption tax? Or tsedakah?

Q) How to we integrate fairly traded products into Dorshei Derekh and our shul?
Sometimes FairTrade is costly – it cuts out the middle-men so can be competitive, but products are usually higher quality, ergo costlier.

Q) How to we resolve conflicting Value Based Decision Making – local vs. buying a fair trade product from far away, or cost, or kashrut labeling? Organic, for example, does not equal Fair Trade. Or a FT product might not have kosher certification. My husband David loves his Starbucks French Roast. It's kosher, but not Fair Trade. 

PS - Elite Chocolate has no supervision of its supply chain. You can help a recent Ashira Abramowitz, a recent Bat Mitzvah girl in Israel, petition Elite to raise its standards, 

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