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A different kind of pandemic…

Ladies and gentlemen, "We are at war". His eyes are staring straight into ours, his face darkened by the gravity of the moment. A few million of us heard it live, invited to grasp the full dimension of the world's stakes with this single self-revealing sentence. However, by pronouncing these words on the Covid-19 pandemic, French President Macron has, in spite of his efforts, triggered a lively polemic. His opponents did not fail to answer impatiently that this is not a war. Others followed suit to better register their difference: "We are not at war, we are fighting", nuance! Against the evils that affect our societies, certainly, but "Nations are not against nations, soldiers are not against soldiers". "It is a test of our humanity. It evokes the worst and the best in people", said German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. This counter-speech had the intelligence, if not the audacity, to emphasize that in times of crisis, solidarity is no longer a possibility, it is an obligation.

Little moved by the force of good feelings, the most skeptical among us considered this all excessive, this wording of the emergency under the name of a so-called universal threat, which nevertheless left many of us in perfect health and did not threaten the majority of the number with an imminent death either. It is necessary to take this into account, but is it enough to look the other way?

At what point does the threat to others become our own interest?

Last December 10 was celebrated as every year in the world, the international day of human rights. This date marks the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations' General Assembly, "a founding document that proclaimed the inalienable rights of every individual as a human being, without distinction in terms of race, color, sex, language, religion, opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status," recalls the United Nations organization.

In fact, this common declaration wants to register as a universal truth that the fundamental rights and freedoms are inherent to every human being, invariably born free and equal in dignity and rights. There is a dark side to it, though: many observers consider that the respect of this universal norm is deteriorating in many remote regions of the world. And these situations would continue to be far removed from the realities of the rich and industrialized countries if the whistle-blowers did not make their voices heard for more social justice and equity.

The theme for Human Rights Day 2020 took into account the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers wanted to emphasize "the need to rebuild better, ensuring that human rights are at the heart of recovery efforts"; it is about protection, resilience, adding that the goals set can only be achieved at the price of a genuine and strong solidarity, fighting against inequality, exclusion and discrimination.

But tackling the pandemic of inequality from the comfort of our living room is it fair enough?

Some people shout it loud and clear: a new social contract is needed to promote the socio-economic and cultural rights of all peoples. However, on our scale, where do we start the effort? Where do the threats to universal human rights begin? Where do human rights, their dangers, begin? According to Eleanor Roosevelt, former First Lady of the United States, who chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1958, "They begin close to home, in places so near and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. (...) If in these places rights are meaningless, (...) If each person does not show the civic-mindedness necessary to ensure that they are respected in his or her surroundings, we should not expect progress on a world scale."

Therefore, solidarity must be considered through the ordinary acts of daily life, easy to integrate into our habits, perhaps even like drinking our coffee in the morning or buttering our sandwich at lunch. Through small gestures that are not very visible but that are undoubtedly very meaningful.

It is a question of our power to decide to invest our money in the first place in commercial channels that promote these values of protecting the human dignity of everyone.

It is a question of balance in trade.

Fifty years ago, faced with the tragedies of famines and growing poverty in the countries of the southern hemisphere, an idea was born: "trade not aid". A whole network of associations was then organized, which no longer wished to treat only the symptoms of poverty, but instead wanted to give priority to the main causes of it, namely the unequal power relations between the large international players and the local farmers who cultivate on a small scale.

Fairtrade products can address this issue of equality.

The Fairtrade concept aims to use world trade as a lever for development and the reduction of inequalities, while ensuring the fair remuneration of local producers and workers. Much more global than just economic perspectives, the fair trade concept also supports ethical, social and environmental concerns.

Our cities have more and more stores and outlets that are loyal to Fairtrade products, so that nothing has more political connotations today than simply enjoying a cup of tea while reading the morning paper. As we have the right to express our daily resistance, in small doses, through apparently simple gestures, but marked by our solidarity with the idea of respecting the rights of each and every one and rebalancing exchanges between all.

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