books fair trade lifestyle poverty shopping

Lift the label, by David Westlake and Esther Stansfield

Lift the Label: the hidden cost of our lifestyle’ is the book that accompanies ‘Lift the Label‘, Tearfund’s ethical living campaign. It is aimed at Christians in particular, inviting them to think about the people and the stories that lie behind our consumer choices. Traditionally the more conservative branches of the church that Tearfund often work with have been slow to pick up on matters of justice, placing more of an emphasis on personal morality and worship. The authors here describe this as a ‘blind spot’, and seek to correct it.

The book is in three parts. It begins by presenting the issues, then addresses the theology, examining what the Bible has to say, and then finishes with points for action.

The issues here are sweatshop clothes, and coffee. I guess you have to start somewhere, but ‘the hidden cost of our lifestyle’ goes so much deeper than that.

Part two explores three areas of the Bible where justice is to the fore. Exodus, a story of slave liberation, has a striking message to our consumer systems that rely on exploited labour. Isaiah and Amos are two more, and Jesus’ teachings and the book of James in the New Testament. “While Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves,” say the authors, “consumer culture entices us to question why we shouldn’t put ourselves first.”

Having challenges readers to match their faith and their lifestyles, part three gets to the action. Changing shopping habits comes first, in this case Fairtrade tea and coffee and ethically traded clothing. Since Tearfund are involved in these, particularly the former, there’s a lot of material about Fairtrade. There are campaigning ideas, a plea to speak and communicate lifestyle choices to friends, and a challenge to ‘reduce the distance between yourself and the poor’.

There’s lots of good stuff here. My one criticism would be that it’s very narrow in its focus. I do more than drink coffee and wear clothes, so my lifestyle choices have to extend a little further beyond Fairtrade coffee and ethical clothing. What about all those foods where a Fairtrade alternative isn’t available? What about electronics? Oil? Banking? Supermarkets? Where we choose to go on holiday? And then there’s the environment, which is very much a secondary concern here. Clothing and coffee just scratches the surface.

Lift the Label is a campaign for young people and students, so perhaps the authors have chosen to start small and get people thinking. In that, they’ve probably been successful. The book is most useful then, for young christians who perhaps haven’t grasped the social justice side to their faith.

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