In Rerum Novarum (On the Dignity of the Worker), Pope Leo XII declared work to be more than just making a living. Work is an essential part of human dignity. With the emergence of a global economy, workers in the United States and other countries have become more vulnerable as corporations seek a cheaper workforce and ways to use fewer workers to produce goods. In many cases workers are not paid a living wage. They work in dangerous conditions for long hours and do not receive health benefits. Securing justice for workers is increasingly difficult as companies outsource jobs to countries with lower or no working standards.
Free trade agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), allow corporations to sue countries for loss of profit if they are required to improve working conditions. Corporate contributions to political campaigns of the government agencies that regulate work standards exacerbate the situation. At the same time, union density in the United States is down to 12 percent compared to 35 percent in the 1950s. In the United States, 23,000 workers are illegally fired or harassed on the job for working to organize as union-busting becomes a large, profitable industry.
Fair trade is a system that not only aims to pay fair wages, but also to support participatory workplaces; ensure environmental sustainability; supply financial and technical assistance; respect cultural identity; offer public accountability; and educate consumers about the choices they can make in their shopping habits. Fair trade businesses foster long-term and direct relationships with producers in the developing world because they know these connections are a highly effective way to help producers help themselves. Fair trade uses a fair system of exchange to empower producers and to create sustainable economic development.
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