26 January 2004

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"Are We Being Fair?" Monday January 26 2004

Lately I have been thinking, reading, and praying a lot about how I spend my money. This means not only taking into account if I need or just want something but even when I need it if the money that I am trading with the store and the company it's made by are treating their employees well (at least a livable wage, available health-care, safe and humane work areas) and taking proper steps to curb their products manufacture effects on the environment (water, land, air, eco-system). One getting a great deal price wise often means that someone else is suffering greatly for my relatively small savings. When the purchaser can afford otherwise this is especially wrong. The real tragedy is that, at least in our America with huge chain stores, those workers who suffer because of this system (paid unfairly) are then forced to shop at places who also cause the same fate for others only to perpetuate the cycle.

That is a lot to think about! And it easily can take it's toll on one in two extreme opposite ways. One, you greatly cut down on what you buy - partly a good thing - because you don't have/make the time to search out responsible companies to buy from. Or, two, one adopts the position that the relatively small purchases made wouldn't make much of a dent in the crisis anyway and that those workers in sweat-shop factories do need a job so we are actually helping them. That last one sounds pretty ridiculous right? I heard a minister around Christmas time somewhat justify the consumerism of that season by reasoning that low wage earners needed the work and that we were giving them some kind of gift in our shopping. He likely didn't mean that we should encourage sweat-shop labor but most people don't even think that deep and so the statement made would, to them, apply to all Christmas spending of products from all places. Instead he could have taken the opportunity to really honor Christ (whose birthday it is about) in holiday shopping by supporting organizations/companies operating fairly for all employees along with their surrounding communities and in supporting government policies and officials advocating these practices.

Right. So where am I going with this? I have a hard time often finding products that meet the above mentioned criteria which is why most people just give up on the idea. That is something I understand and sympathize with. But when we do have the products made available to us then I think we have a responsibility to support those and advocate them to others as responsible citizens of the world.

It seems to me that those of us who follow the teachings of the Bible (Christian, Catholic, Jew etc) have an even greater degree of responsibility in these matters. Bringing "The Kingdom of God" to earth hinges greatly on people experiencing freedom both physically, economically and spiritually. How can we want people to have that and still oppress them with our spending habits and our support of unjust trade policies? It's hypocritical.

Coldplay's Chris Martin made a big deal during TV and live performances, magazine articles, and by attending the World Trade Organization (WTO) summit in 2003 about making trade fair (maketradefair.com). Visit their site and give what they have to say a chance. While you are at it, start making a difference by supporting organizations like two I've listed below and talk to others about it. At this point one is hard pressed to send some of their money in the direction of questionable companies (I find it personally unavoidable) and so we should not agonize over that when we do our best but that does mean we need to change. This is not about guilt. It's about knowledge and responsibility that comes with it for what is right, just, and fair whether you back it up ethically or biblically.

American Apparel
http://www.americanapparel.net
- sweatshop Free Clothing Made in Downtown LA

Pura Vida Coffee
http://puravidacoffee.com/index.asp
Fair Trade Coffee guarantees that coffee farmers/workers get paid at least a livable wage and this organization also supports charity work with Children in Costa Rica. There are also partners with this company who you can find on the site to support by purchasing through their "storefront" [I go through Sojourners].

If you find more organizations that you think are fair please send them my way, shortly I hope to make an accessible list on this site. There are plenty of books from many perspectives on this topic. From the Christian perspective I personally recommend two: HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? by Arthur Simon and RICH CHRISTIAN IN AN AGE OF HUNGER by Ronald Sider. Any debate, comments, and questions are also welcome. Peace.

email: info@chrisflinchbaugh.com

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