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“Korean Fair Trade Organizations” (KFTO) and “Korean NGO Council for Overseas Cooperation” (KCOC) Seoul, Korea

October 22, 2012 ·  By Fr. Shay Cullen

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Dear Friends, Advocates of Fair Trade, Justice and Peace,

I am very honored and thankful to be present here today to share with you a little of my life and work in helping to develop and promote the Fair Trade movement in the Philippines.

I can share with you some of my life experience and explain the social conditions and personal experience that changed my life and that led me into starting Preda Foundation and the Preda fair trade in the Philippines in the year 1974, 38 years ago and still growing and expanding in other countries today. I will share some of the present social and political conditions in the Philippines in the present time.

I first went to the Philippines as a Missionary from Ireland, as a member of the Missionary Society St. Columban. I arrived in Manila in September 1969. I was assigned to a parish in a town 135 kilometers North West of Manila called Olongapo City, situated on Subic Bay.

It was then the home port base of the US 7th Naval fleet and thousands of marines, sailors and sex tourists were living there and more arriving on ships and planes. The military base serviced and repaired the US navy ships and it was very big.

It was the port city where there was only one industry – the sex trade. Thousands of women and even children as young as 9 years old were victims of that most evil and unjust trade in human persons. Even children were bought and sold for sexual exploitation in the sex bars and on the streets.

Social conditions that led to establishing Preda.

One day, I walked on the streets in civilian dress to know and understand the social situation, and walked on the main street where there was hundreds of sex bars and clubs. I was mistaken as a potential customer by the traffickers of children, the traders in human lives. I was shocked when a man offered me children as young as twelve years old. “Hi Joe, you want good time”, he said. I saw two young 12 year-old girls held tightly by a female child trafficker standing in a nearby doorway. They had been forced to put on skimpy dresses and wore lipstick and had painted faces and plastic necklaces. They were frightened and very malnourished.

“You can have them for sex for only a hundred dollars”, he said. It was my first encounter with modern trading of human beings, they were the first victims of child-sex slavery I saw and I was angry and shocked. There was nothing I could do at that time to save those two children but I was determined to do all I could to stop the trade and save as many of the children and women as possible.

I looked for a way to prevent the children being taken from their villages and sold into sex trade. I saw thousands of women and hundreds of children being exploited by bar operators, child traffickers, sex tourists and US marines and local politicians who gave permits to allow it to grow and expand.

There were many street children in Olongapo begging from the US sailors and young boys and girls were sold by child traffickers to sex tourists. Drugs and substance abuse were common practice. Many teenagers were addicted. These boys and some girls were put in to the jails and suffered dehumanizing abuse and the violation of their human rights. They were mostly illiterate abandoned street boys using drugs and cheap chemicals to escape the pain of hunger and poverty. They got no justice but were left in the jail for many months without court trial. I planned to open a therapeutic healing and education home to give them alternative to the streets and jails.

Reason for the sex trade.

The poverty and hunger in the Philippines was widespread and the women and children were vulnerable and they were taken from remote villages. Money was paid to their families in advance of work and transportation. They were promised a good job as maids in a hotel. When they were brought to the city, they were forced to work in a sex club and were trapped; they could not leave the sex bar until they paid the money they owed to the bar operator. Every night they had to work as commercially exploited sex workers. As many as 60,000 children are presently working in the sex trade in the Philippines today. About one million children are trafficked into the sex trade worldwide.

I began the Preda foundation and the Fair Trade development organization, Preda Fair Trade, to combat this poverty and exploitation of the poor and to provide funds to support and help protect and heal victims of human rights violations, the child victims of sexual abuse, trafficking and the boys suffering in jails from unjust imprisonment and abuse.

 Preda Campaign to close the US Military Bases.

In 1983, Preda social workers found a group of 12 children suffering from venereal diseases, they have been abused by US marines. The youngest was 9 years old. Preda foundation began a campaign to expose the evil trade and to call for the closure of the military bases and their replacement and conversion into economic commercial zones with fair wages and dignified employment. It took ten years campaigning to win a victory and persuade the Philippine Senate to vote against the continuation of the bases. In the year 1992, on November 22, the bases were closed and the conversion to economic zones began. It was a success today and 120,000 Filipinos have jobs in the new economic zones. The biggest investor in Subic bay, Olongapo is Korean Hanjin shipyards employing 22,000 Filipinos.

The sex industry collapsed, however, after 3 years, it began to revive again and so today trafficking of children and young women into commercial sex trade is even a bigger problem.

Preda fair trade which is a separate organization has 12 professional employees and helps hundreds of farmers and craft producers. It began in 1975 making crafts. Today it has 25 craft producer groups all over the Philippines and exports these products. In 1993 Preda fair trade began to help farmers and indigenous people by buying their mango fruit at fair prices and Fair trade conditions and making dried mangos and mango puree (mash) for export to mostly European countries and Japan.

 Prevention through Fair trade

The Preda fair trade project gives economic development to poor farmers and crafts people and prevents children having to work on the farms at an early age, or running to the cities onto the streets as beggars and provides economic help to the villages to prevent the selling of children into the sex trade and brings a better life to the villages of the poor and the indigenous people.

Preda Fair Trade reduces poverty and exploitation of the poor. It gives fair prices to the farmers and craft makers. It buys all sizes of fruit, and gives access to international markets for the products. Hundreds are employed in the processing and export of the mangos.

Preda fair trade gives medical help, interest-free production loans, development projects in the villages, and provides educational supplies to the children of farmers, bicycles to mangos producers, and housing to victims of natural disasters. It gives its earning to the Preda foundation to help abused children.

 Social Services for Exploited Children.

The Preda Foundation Inc. (a separate organization) receives funds from the earnings of Preda fair trade. Preda has 70 professional social workers and project officers. They deliver vital social services to the most exploited and abused victims of human slavery and also to imprisoned children and youth. Preda Foundation helps save the children that are trafficked and sold into that most evil trade – child sex slavery. The children rescued from sexual commercial exploitation have a new life and healing therapy and education in a protected home where the abusers and exploiters cannot touch them. There is Preda legal service that pursues justice and brings the abusers to the court.

Social and Economic Problems in the Philippines Today

In the Philippines where corrupt practices are common, that message of “fair trade is good business” has been heard and the Makati Business Club established the “Integrity Initiative” in 2010. One thousand five hundred business companies have signed a pledge and adopted a code of practice to create a culture of integrity in Philippines business practice. It has adopted some fair trade criteria. However, how they will monitor the implementing has yet to be worked out. Yet it is an important step in addressing the culture of corruption that has prevailed and which the present administration of President Benigno Aquino III is committed to eradicate. His message is “if there is no corruption there will be no poverty”.

Causes of Poverty and Exploitation

However, we know that sadly, Fair Trade is not the practice in the greater wider world of commerce. We strive to promote it to change corrupt practices. We all know that there is a world where government officials, corporations, business people, and traders who do not respect the dignity of producers and workers and indigenous people and their communities. They are driven by greed to maximize profits. They live and work on the dark side of trade in the world and violate human rights.

The root cause of poverty, oppression, violation of rights is rooted in the wrongful desire by some to have power over others and to monopolize and control the resources of wealth creation and to manage monopolies and engage in unjust price fixing.

 Political dynasties

In the Philippines, the democracy is really an Oligarchy, a rule by a few very powerful families. They pass on the political status from one family member to the next. These dynastic families have members in the Congress and Senate and many relatives placed in government departments. They are able to manipulate the laws to their own commercial profit and benefit. The families make up only 1% of the population but control 70% of the wealth. They favor the interests of foreign multinationals and allow them to exploit the resources and raw materials and the rich minerals of the Philippines. The Military leadership is in collaboration with the ruling families and their family members are in the top ranks.

These exploitative corporations are creating greater poverty by land grabbing, operating dirty polluting open pit mines, and destroying the environment and the livelihood of thousands of families. Some do it with powerful political backing them and they are exploiting the mineral resources through irresponsible mining and logging and causing environmental destruction. Whole villages are displaced, tribal leaders are murdered and whole valleys destroyed with pollution from mining.

There is on-going confrontation between civil society groups and corporations and corrupt officials. The social activists are campaigning for social justice on a range of issues against the corporations, foreign and local that are considered to be unfair and exploitative. The corporations in mining, energy, communications and food production are targets of protest. Civil society activists say the unfair corporations and their political backers oppress the people, especially indigenous populations.

Many assassinated

Hundreds of protesters, human rights defenders, priests, pastors, journalist social activists, environmentalists, and students who are against these practices have been assassinated, or have disappeared since 2001.

Rights and Freedom Abused

They do not consider the rights and freedom and dignity of workers, producers and the exploitation of human beings. The environment is for them collateral damage, the price of doing business and they consider it is their right to prosper, enrich and empower themselves even if it hurts and harms the workers, even women and children.

In Mindanao, the civil unrest and rebellion has been caused in some way by the activities of irresponsible corporate exploitation. The new agreed framework for the creation of the “Bangsamoro” political entity will hopefully end the armed rebellion.

There is greater poverty and hunger in Mindanao than any other part of the Philippines. In a Professional survey in August 2012, self- assessed poverty among Muslim families was recorded as 61 percent higher compared with 47 percent in non-Muslim families in the rest of the country. The good news is that poverty is decreasing nationwide, thanks to the many campaigns for social justice by civil society and a more responsive and sympathetic government. However, there is still a big number of remaining poverty stricken families. The national hunger rate last August 2012 was 18 percent of the population of almost 100 million people who suffered moderate hunger. They could not afford 2 basic meals a day (fish and rice) whereas 3 percent of the population suffered acute hunger or those who could not afford to have one decent meal every day.

Message to all is to unite and strive for the best practice of fair trade. Let us remind ourselves that we are here together united by a common cause, a belief in the practice and value of Fair Trade in overcoming social and economic injustice. Let us remind ourselves of these important values and strengthen our resolve and determination to promote them and to help eradicate poverty.

For many people, their first experience with Fair Trade was most likely a happy and enjoyable one. They surely felt and believed that the value of a product was more than its beauty, design, usefulness or taste but they believed that an important part of its value was the way it was produced presented and sold. They were shown that the value of a product is not only in its beauty, material and skill but in the good social conditions under which it is produced. Indeed the Fair Trade buyer surely looks at the human and environmental conditions that prevailed in its making.

The customer of a Fair Trade product must be helped to understand that as a certified Fair Trade product, the producer, artisan, or farmer is earning a just and fair reward for his or her work and skill. The customer will be happy to be respecting the rights and dignity of the producers and that that they are in some small way making the producers’ lives healthier happier and that social justice was served in its production.

Customers of fair trade products will be happy to know that a correct and right wage is paid to the producers and their working conditions are humane. They must be told that the Fair trade product and producer is free from exploitation, oppression, forced labor, child labor and safe from dangerous chemicals, life threatening hazards and bad working conditions.

 We all want Fair Trade to be the normal way that all of humankind does trading and business. This is the goal and purpose we set ourselves, to promote these criteria that can change the lives of many poor and oppressed people. Practicing Fair Trade is for us the normal, ordinary and right way to behave and to act by having a respectful and dignified relationship with the maker and producer of products that we use and consume. Fair trade is justice in practice; it should be the right and normal way for human beings to trade and exchange goods and services with each other.

 Consumer buying power to promote social change.

We realize too as Fair traders that the consumers, the buyers of fair trade products have a power and influence to bring about fairness and a better life for many people by choosing to buy products produced in fairness. In the United Kingdom, Fair Trade sales have reached over a billion pounds sterling every year and it is growing strongly. This message has influenced the commercial corporate world and many corporations are adopting corporate polices to practice Corporate responsibility.

 Setting up a Korean and Asian Fair Trade Label

Some commercial corporations are unfairly taking the Fair Trade label and name and marking their goods as fair trade when in reality it is not true. These corporations may have one product traded as fair trade but the rest of their products are not following Fair Trade criteria. This comes from the awareness that millions of customers around the world want products made under the fair trade conditions. This is wrong and unjust.

 A Korean fair trade label. A Fair Trade label that certifies that that the product is made in Fair Trade conditions is an important aspect of fair trade and gives information to the customer and assurance that it is a Fair traded product. It is a strong selling point. Many commercial companies want to have that label. It is advisable for the Korean members of Fair trade to be members of the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) to establish their own Fair Trade label and I would encourage the establishment of an Asian Fair Trade label also.

 With fair trade and more social justice, we hope for a better future for the poor and the oppressed people of the Philippines.

Fr. Shay Cullen

shaycullen@preda.org

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