The Independent Catholic News in Great Britain reported that on Nov. 20 Nadia Eweida lost an appeal to her employers, British Airways. Ms. Eweida had petitioned to be allowed to wear a cross over the uniform she wore as a check-in attendant at London’s Heathrow airport.
The reaction to this news was understandable. The Anglican archbishop of York said that British Airways needs to look again at this decision and to look to the history of the country it represents, whose culture, laws, heritage and tradition owe so much to the very same symbol it would ban. The archbishop of Canterbury said that if British Airways is really saying or implying that the wearing of a cross in public is a source of offense, then I regard that as deeply offensive.
By Nov. 25, the airline announced that it had to reconsider the decision in the light of public debate. The British Broadcasting System said that the airline had been forced to change its policy because of mounting pressure from members of Parliament, religious leaders and the press. British Airways has allowed Sikh staff to wear turbans and Muslim staff to wear hijabs because they cannot be worn under clothing. The archbishop of York called that distinction nonsense.
Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, revealed on Nov. 25 that the matter had been discussed with the church commissioners, who oversee the Anglican Church’s financial interests. He was backed by Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor. He said he considered it absolutely basic that people of any faith should have the right to display the signs of their faith commitment in public.
The Anglican bishop of London deplored this example of intolerant secularism in our country and praised Ms. Eweida for standing up for her right to profess the historic faith of this country in a way that protects the rights of others as well as Christians.
The Starbucks Bully
Starbucks, the global coffee giant, is blocking Ethiopia’s attempt to trademark its three most famous coffee bean types by standing in the way of its application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to a November report by Oxfam International, this action by Starbucks would cause financial harm to the country’s growers. Coffee represents almost half of Ethiopia’s export income, with millions dependent on the coffee trade. The nation’s poverty is severe: one in four lives on a dollar day, and 80 percent live on less than two dollars a day. The country ranks in the bottom 10 on the U.N. human development index for income, health and education.
Securing the rights to its three leading coffee names, Sidamo, Harar and Yirgacheffe, would enable Ethiopia to capture value from the trade by controlling their use in the market. Farmers would thereby receive a larger share of the retail price. The Ethiopian government has asked Starbucks to sign an agreement acknowledging Ethiopia’s ownership of its three coffee names. Oxfam has been in consultation with Starbucks for more than a year, but so far without concrete results. The head of the nation’s intellectual property office has said that Ethiopia wants to continue in its role as a growing source of coffee for the world market, because the desired agreement with Starbucks would help the 15 million poor people who depend on income from coffee every single day. It is time for Starbucks to do the right thing: agree to Ethiopia’s trademarking of its major coffee names.
More Nigerian School News
Dr. Peter Odili is the governor of Rivers State, one of the 36 states into which Nigeria is apportioned. In a Nov. 17 ceremony at Government House in Port Harcourt, the Rivers capital, Dr. Odili presented George W. Quickley, an American Jesuit who is the provincial superior of the Jesuit Province of North West Africa, with a check for a sum equivalent to US $5 million.
This gift was a grant-in-aid for the building in Port Harcourt of a new high school that will be modeled on Loyola Jesuit College, a coeducational and residential secondary school in Abuja, Nigeria’s federal capital. In these pages last month, L.J.C. was described as one of Nigeria’s top schools (Of Many Things, 11/20). A reader who has firsthand knowledge of the Nigerian scene sent America a crisp correction: It is the best school!
Just a year ago, 60 L.J.C. students traveling home for the Christmas holidays were among the 107 passengers killed when a plane crashed at the Port Harcourt airfield. The new school will probably be called Jesuit Memorial, in honor of the children who died. A government spokesman said it will aim to be world-class.
Discussions were also under way last month with officials of the Shell Company who are offering to build another Jesuit school in Oloibiri, Bayelsa State. Although Nigeria has plenty of political problems, it seems clear that both government and business think that the support of first-rate private schools is a good investment for the nation.