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My 36 Slaves

It was a casual Sunday afternoon. I went to the supermarket – I needed to buy sugar.

I got to the plethora of sugar options on the shelf and stared.

And stared.

I picked one up. I put it back. I couldn’t bring myself to buy one.

Why? Not because of all the options before me. It’s because I know that all this sugar in front of me isn’t produced in ways I agree with. I’ve known that for a while, but that day it made me unable to purchase sugar. But I needed sugar. What to do? Driving across Auckland to the TradeAid store to purchase sugar doesn’t seem a great ‘sustainable choice’ either. So I went home with no sugar. But I knew that soon I’d need sugar and be faced with the same dilemma. (Let’s not get into the ‘do you really need sugar’ debate in this one, we’ll save that for another day - and luckily I found out that a different supermarket close-by stocks Fairtrade sugar.)

More than anything what surprised me about this sugar-debacle was myself. I’ve always ‘cared’ about ethical and sustainable consumer choices, but often it becomes idealist with an I’ll-buy-fair-trade-coffee-if-it’s-in-front-of-me thrown in on the side (though this is still a great place to start).

So what’s changed? I’m not exactly sure.

I found out I have 36 slaves working for me – in fact, I probably have more. That hit hard. I found out in what areas we are using slaves to support our consumer lifestyle – like in producing the new iPhone 6. I found out not all products labelled ‘free-range’ or ‘fair-trade’ actually are.

Deep down I think God’s been doing a bit of stirring – He’s good at that! Lately I’m seeing God’s love for this entire world and creation changing the way I have to live. I’ve found myself unable to ignore this question: “How can I live sustainably and ethically in a way that honours all of God’s creation?” Practically, I’m being intentional about reading and talking with people who are asking the same questions as me.

But don’t get me wrong friends. I’m such a weakling who struggles to do this. It doesn’t come naturally, or easy. I’m selfish and buy things that are convenient, not fair. I drive to work. I own a smartphone. I don’t always recycle. The other day I tried not to use plastic bags at the supermarket and then ended up with my arms full of groceries (cos I forgot my reusable bags)… I dropped and broke some of my items on the pavement. And sometimes the whole thing just makes me feel overwhelmed and I don’t want to care at all!

So this weakling is learning, learning that daily choices matter. With that in mind, and a dose of grace, I am trying to:

  • Make a choice to be informed about products, and let that information change my purchases.

  • Make a choice to make sacrifices of my time and effort for sustainability.
    Choose inconvenience for me but fairness for others.

  • Choose to read things and hear things about slavery and working conditions that make me uncomfortable and teary.

  • Choose to get up the next day and try again after making selfish choices the day before.

Small choices and changes make a difference, firstly to me, and hopefully to others.

What about you? Are you ready to make a choice that may mean you might not be able to just walk up and buy sugar?



Are you aware of the real cost of our consumeristic culture? What ways do you already live intentionally fair-trade and consumer conscious? What ways do you struggle or have never thought about before? What’s your next choice in moving towards this?



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