What’s Jewish about Fair Trade?

Reference: Fair Trade Judaica

What’s Jewish about Fair Trade?

A key tenet of Judaism is to “pursue justice” – Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. We can pursue justice by making consumer choices that promote economic fairness for those who produce our products around the globe.
Following are several Jewish values and source materials supporting why it’s Jewish to seek out and purchase fair trade projects.

“There is nothing in the world more grievous than poverty – the most terrible of sufferings. Our teachers have said: if all the troubles of the world are assembled on one side and poverty is on the other, poverty would outweigh them all.” (Midrash Exodus Rabbah 31:12)

The primary Jewish tool for helping the poor is tzedakah. According to the great 12th century Jewish scholar, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides or Rambam), the highest form of tzedakah is entering into a business partnership or giving a person a job so that he or she can become self-sufficient. When we buy fair trade products, we are effectively entering into a business partnership with the artisan or farmer, and our partnership supports fair trade producers to lift themselves out of poverty.

“You shall not abuse a needy or destitute laborer, whether a fellow countryman or a stranger in one of the communities of your land. You must pay him his wages on the same day, before the sun sets, for he is needy and he risks his life for it.” (Deut. 24:14-15)

The lesson here hinges on the phrase “risks his life for it.” Poor laborers depend on earning a decent wage in order to obtain the simple necessities of life. If an artisan or farmer works hard to produce a product that we want and need, we have an obligation to ensure that the farmer and his or her family receive sufficient income to live a sustainable life.

“It is forbidden to cheat people in buying and selling, or to deceive them.”
(Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Mechirah 18:1)

As indicated above, Jewish law makes it very clear that workers under our care are to be treated justly. From this it can be inferred that as consumers, we also have the obligation to ensure that the people who are producing the goods that we purchase are paid properly and fairly for their work.

Click here for Fair Trade Judaica’s guide to Jewish text sources on fair trade values (PDF).

Click here for more places to learn about fair trade principles and action, Jewish community resources and materials for learning, teaching and programming.